Rx Bandits - Mandala (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Rx Bandits

Mandala (2009)

Sargent House

The progression Rx Bandits have gone through leading to their sixth full-length, Mandala, has been so intricate and progressive-rock-based that it's basically a far, far fetch to maintain that the band plays ska-punk of any variety now. The band has entirely dismissed their ever-dwindling brass section, and there is nary an upstroke to be found on the album. But that cannot be a valid criticism of Mandala. What could be a criticism is that it's unfortunately vacant of the powerful dynamism and smart hooks that have littered the band's last few albums. While Mandala bears enough nuances and jarring direction changes to warrant interest, it does seem to lean on the oodles and noodles of prog-nodding riffs as more of a crutch and less a complement, and when it doesn't, the band's bite and bark seem weakened.

Mandala further warrants comparisons to the Mars Volta that have sprouted up in recent years, thanks to the more exploratory vocal range, flittering synth layers and sharp, angular guitars jilting about in an energetic but compact prog-rocker like "It's Only Another Parsec...". In addition, that sure sounds like some Spanish singing in the nearly seven-minute "Mientras la Veo Soñar" too, which kicks it for an extended conclusion with spacey guitar effects, organ-esque fiddling and steady shakers; six-minute closer "Bring Our Children Home" has plenty of spastic wankery in its finish, too.

The songs are certainly interesting and hyperactive in a sort of paradoxically restrained manner, though one wishes vocalist/guitarist Matt Embree's voice was more prominent at points; he really seems to take a backseat to the music for most of Mandala, whereas the band managed to strike a wonderful balance on elder material like "Never Slept So Soundly" or the subtle movements of "VCG3." His whispery performance in "March of the Caterpillar" is pretty notable, though, especially with the emblematic frontman's typically in-depth look at the interpersonalities of tightly-knit relationships ("Here's to look the other way, and say your first love, well, she was just someone to waste your life with").

Mandala is a complex album, no doubt, but with a further magnification on trying to string together all the band's detailed talents in new, less genre-addled fashions, it's damaged their overall complexion. While this is a good listen, it just doesn't have the same power or attack the Rx Bandits have managed to retain through their decade-plus and otherwise storied career.