RX Bandits - 'Mandala' (Sargent House) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Russ P   
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 05:00

f_RxBanditsMam_751adf3Previously unknown to me Californian band RX Bandits release their sixth full length studio album 'Mandala'. I might be tempted to ask where have they been hiding? Or, perhaps more pertinently, where I have been hiding? Add this latest release to the output of the individual musicians' side projects and you could say that RX Bandits get around a bit. Evidently I have a lot of catching up to do.


'My Lonesome Only Friend' starts off smoothly with plenty of jazzy atmospherics courtesy of the electric piano. The drums build and stab into this peaceful lakeside reverie until punky ska guitars float to the surface in bloody blooms. The guitars slowly crescendo into a thrashing and melodic Muse-like chorus. This is how albums are supposed to start. Guitar solos give way to some heavy riffing, ramp back up into the chorus which finally burns up in the outer atmosphere and thunders into 'It's Only Another Parasec...' - a fantastic and powerful prog journey signposted with synths, and comes off like a jam session between The Mars Volta and The Police. The rhythm section of Chris Tsagakis and Joe Troy are astoundingly solid allowing Steve Choi the freedom to go anywhere he dreams with his guitar textures. The song ends slamming shut abruptly, pauses, then opens up again with crescendos of cymbals and swooping echoed guitars in an extended outtro that's more like an intermission as it has little in common with what preceded it.


Next up we have 'Hope Is A Butterfly, No Net Its Captor...(The Virus Of Silence)'. Did I mention The Mars Volta already? This is very exciting. And wierd. Very strange dual guitar lines cross swords like Dalì and Picasso having a surreal and floppy paintbrush fight. I haven't heard anything like this intro since Stump's 'A Fierce Pancake'. I'm loving this. It's slamming, erratic, energetic and melodic. It's also big and clever.


It's clear by this point that RX Bandits are continuing where they left off with 'One Million Miles An Hour, Fast Asleep', from their 2006 album '...And The Battle Begun'. The sound on this album is much harder hitting than on their previous studio album. Ska is still very much a huge part of their sound but they've continued to punk things to the max. Or should that be to the Mad Max? Cause this album is bonkers.


To further mess with my mind Matt Embree starts singing in Spanish on 'Mientras La Veo Soñar'. The verses sound like freeform latin jazz - this time the guitar holds the fort while the drums go loco. Cohesiveness returns on the choruses which are tight and focussed. It's all superbly done. As complex and crazy as all these sounds and rhythms are amongst all the chaos even a novice could still dance the Mambo to it. The extensive outtro is sprinkled with subtlety and beautifully played dynamics.


'March Of The Caterpillar' is reminiscent of RHCP's 'Under The Bridge' in the guitar department but with a heavy reggae feel that, by turns, gets decidedly funky.


Further production excellence can be heard on 'White Lies' which has Matthew Embree sounding a little Chris Martin against the electric piano. Even in downbeat slow mode RX Bandits are still more funky than Coldplay will ever be. And that's the difference. This track provides some light relief from the complexity so far and is wonderfully spacious. The drums sound superb and the bass is omnipresent and rich.


We don't yet know it but RX Bandits have slyly slackened the pace on the last few numbers and with 'Bury It Down Low' they're unobtrusively prepping us for more out and out mayhem. So when 'Breakfast Cat' hits, it hits hard. It feels like making a schoolboy error in the Ultimate Fighting Championship - eyeing up your opponent, deciding he doesn't look like much and then...whack...you're on your ass counting tweety birds.


'Bled To Be Free (The Operation)' sounds as if you've walked into the rehearsal hall of a dozen different mariachi bands warming up for the annual street carnival. And, when they merge as one, it's the latin equivalent of thrash. Note to self: aforementioned novice could not dance to this - risk of leg breakage: HIGH.


By the last track I'm punch drunk. My skull has the thickness of a bird's egg and my brain, likewise, is probably egg yolk. This album will fuck you up. Physically or mentally it doesn't matter. In the end it will fuck you up. But there is a solution. Take a rest. Drink some water. Regenerate. Then start again. At the beginning.