Review Summary: Former third-wave ska posterboys put out a superb effort that mixes reggae and progressive rock, with a boost of post-hardcore adrenaline and come out with one of the most accomplished examples of genre-bending in modern music.
The Rx Bandits are fairly infamous in the alternative music scene in general. Starting out as an ultra-cliché third-wave ska-revival group from Long Beach, California, their first album Those Damn Bandits
and its follow-up Halfway Between Here and There
are fairly cliché runs through basic upstrokes and predictably catchy horn lines that did nothing to ever distinguish themselves from every other sped-up-Bosstones rip-off of the mid to late nineties. 2001’s Progress
and 2003’s The Resignation
however, both began to show the band moving further away from the ska of ye olden day (read: 1994) and more towards a hybrid sound which included guitar driven progressive rock, dubbed out reggae, and the occasional foray into the angularity of modern post-hardcore. …And the Battle Begun
is the band’s fifth full length release, and undoubtedly their strongest, and most experimental release to date.
’s main strength lies in the instrumental work from every member of the band. Guitarists Matt Embree and Steve Choi are both the obvious instrumental highlights, laying down some of the most quirky and off-kilter guitar lines and melodies I’ve heard away from At the Drive-In’s Relationship of Command
, most notable on ”1980”
, which is undeniably the strongest track on the album. Sounding almost like a surf-rock version of Hot Cross during the introduction riff before moving into the typical jangly and catchy stabs of ska, ”1980”
shows Embree and Choi playing to their greatest strengths, while never outdoing each other or making you immediately realize that one is better than the other.
That is not to say that the rest of the band is untalented, or even average. Rather, every member puts up a stellar performance on Battle
. Drummer Christopher Tsagakis is one of the most varied drummers I’ve come across recently, offering up an apparent influence from jazz, ska, punk, and glam-rock at times. His powerful and masterful drum fills are what make songs such as the spastic ”Crushing Destroyer”
and the downright Mars Volta-homage ”To Our Unborn Daughters”
as ass-kicking as they are.
Bassist Joe Troy is a bit hit and miss at times; on many of the extended tracks that rely on the epic crescendos, such as ”To Our Unborn Daughters”
, and the pop-bliss that infests the Police-esque title track, he lays down some excellent lines and grooves which compliment the song perfectly. However, at times, Troy can get lost in the mix under the flood of surfy guitars and pristine keyboard flourishes (courtesy of Steve Choi). Multi-instrumentalist Chris Sheets plays his part well, avoiding the overbearing saxophone that plagues most ska bands and instead opting to add flourishes to the constantly dynamic atmosphere created by the rest of the band. His percussion sections are also worth noting, especially during ”Only For the Night”
and during the Zeppelin-esque breakdown during (sigh) ”To Our Unborn Daughters”
, where he drives the rhythm section with a powerful tribal beat.
However, all of this talent would be nothing without the Bandits’ superb songwriting skills. Almost every song on this album is great, or better, and only two are really disappointing in comparison to the rest. ”Apparition”
is a fairly unremarkable dirge into vintage reggae which just proves to be uninteresting compared to the rest of the album, while it’s immediate follow-up, ”A Mouthful of Hollow Threats?”
, tries to bring it back up to the energy level of the rest of the album, and almost
succeeds. Both show the band’s obvious love for reggae, but at the expense of abandoning one of their strongest qualities: their penchant for crafting infectious and complex songs, as evidenced best by the free-form monster of ”Epoxi-Lips”
and the rollicking, tempo-and-time-signature shifting of ”Tainted Wheat”
…And the Battle Begun
succeeds where the Rx Bandits had previously faltered. While some of the songs may not be as immediately catchy and infectious as the prime cuts from The Resignation
, as a whole, the album far exceeds the highs that the previous albums may have contained within. So please, put down your burned copy of the new Reel Big Fish live album, and pick this up from a group of actual talented musicians.
Recommended Tracks: 1980, To Our Unborn Daughters, Crushing Destroyer, In Her Drawer, Tainted Wheat
But you really need the whole album.