In trying to write this review, I kept coming back to the same (lame) analogy:
If Progress was equivalent to "Reservoir Dogs," and The Resignation was "Pulp Fiction," then this is Rx Bandits' "Jackie Brown."
Keep in mind, this is just my analogy. Some people believe Quentin Tarantino to be the master thief of cinema, but I love "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" is one of the few truly perfect films I've seen. With that, I also love "Jackie Brown," but it's nowhere near the caliber of the other two.
Alright, enough of that.
…And the Battle Begun is the first album the Bandits have self-released on Matt Embree's own Mash Down Babylon Records. With that in mind, the production and quality of the overall package is pretty good. The album finds the band embracing their live jams and is quite possibly the best representation of their live performance on disc.
So what's the problem?
Quite frankly, the album is unfocused. The band may be incorporating their jams into songs more, but it doesn't make for good songwriting. Many verses meander toward a chorus and back until they reach an end, with an overly long jam thrown in as a bridge or intro. Most of the songs aren't cohesive within themselves, so how are they supposed to make for a complete album?
My other major quarrel is with the mix. Chris Tsagakis is a great drummer, but that's no reason for the drums to overpower everything else on the album, especially the vocals. This is the first Rx Bandits album that I've had no clue what most of the lyrics were even after listening to it numerous times. From looking at the liner notes, it looks like they mostly follow the political themes and love/drugs analogies of past albums.
A slightly smaller problem I have is that there's less ska/reggae on this album, "Apparition" and "A Mouth Full of Hollow Threats" being the only honest efforts. This isn't a huge problem though, as I've long ago accepted that my favorite ska bands will eventually move past the genre.
But I'm being overly negative. This isn't a bad album. Far from it. It's a really solid album. For one, it seems like the band draw influence from recent experiences. Members of the band released a distinctly soul / old R&B-influenced album last year on Asian Man under the Satori moniker, and introducing those same styles on Battle makes for some interesting moments. As well, consistent touring with the Exit must have inspired the band to re-incorporate the definite Police nod of their reggae stylings they've been carrying since 2001's Progress.
In addition, many of the instrumental solos are fantastic. This is a band of great musicians and musicianship. This effort finds the band moving away from the frivolity of odd time signatures and has them writing interesting music around the live sound that they have developed over the years.
I really think that the fanboy inside got the best of me and set my expectations for this album way too high, leading me to be overly critical of the album when it turned out to be not as good as The Resignation. As such, the fanboy had it out with the critic inside of me and they came to an agreement on the album's final score.
I just hope it's not 6 years before we get to hear "Kill Bill."