Review Summary: Hornless and open to explore, Mandala is everything Rx Bandits have worked for and more
might as well have been that huge gasp of air that Rx Bandits had been holding for years now. While the progressive transformation may have not been planned from their days as The Pharmaceutical Bandits, their eventual transformation has been patiently incredible. With each album, they moved from a young reggae-ska outfit into a developed, fully matured hybrid of different elements of progressive, ska, reggae, and rock. Ever since their dynamic album, The Resignation
, it was clear as to their eventual final mold. With The Resignation we found eclectic tracks like “Mastering The List” and “Decrescendo” that branched out into a more progressive-rock charm that were, at the time and frankly still are, mindblowing. In fact, it was a prelude to their time spent journeying with the experimental-progressive supergroup The Sound of Animals Fighting where listeners found a rainbow of sound and ideas. From there, it was only a matter of time until they adapted this style that leant more towards a more sophisticated, nostalgic sound.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, their last horn member, Chris Sheets, left the band, leaving Rx Bandits free to write their songs without catering to any hornline. In a recent interview with The Decider , Matt Embree stated that in the past they would essentially ‘water down’ their music for accompanying hornlines. With this dismissal, it left room for “Breakfast Cat” and “Bring Our Children Home Or Everything Is Nothing” to explore their full potential, as with most of Mandala. Flushed with poly-rhythms galore and a dance-happy rhythm section, they are two staples of an album filled with memorable moments. Just like the salsa-turned-power chord break during the guitar-happy, “Bled To Be Free (The Operation).” And with three lone songs, the Rx Bandits show their merit and capabilities that felt held back with …And The Battle Begun
Before the Rx Bandits seem totally transcribed into a more technical band, Embree still finds room for his most formidable vocal hooks and harmonies. With that, it is abundantly clear as to their incredibly accessible blend of heavy and pop elements, all while finding room for their pertinent jam sections. But Mandala is not all frantic and rehashed from the original Rx Bandits sound. “Bury It Down Low” and “White Lies” plays off with this serene reggae vibe, never outdoing its own dynamic or attempting to crescendo into some epic finale, recalling the finer moments of their past work like “Analog Boy” and “Overcome (The Recapitulation).” Similarly, “March Of The Caterpillar” softly noodles among ‘do-do-do-dos’ in a rather somber, emotional track that’s perfectly centered within the album's girth. Balance seamlessly defines this album, even though some may feel the start and finish to the album to be rather bloated due to the heavy nature of each respective section. But Mandala is the live concert playing in your headphones or through your speakers, setting up for the eventual closer, but giving you time to breathe and soak each second of passionate songwriting.
What gleams most about Mandala is the exuded confidence of how enjoyable this album was for Rx Bandits. At first, it felt rather dry as Mandala’s midsection barely left an impression, but that was before the intricacies of their pop-prowess took everything a step forward. This album is enthralling, and most of all, downright pleasurable. At the end of the day, Mandala has a few missteps as far as in-song transitions are concerned, but overall, arguably their best work to date. It will be interesting as to what direction Rx Bandits will move towards next, but right now I’ll have the waning moments of "Bring Our Children Home or Everything is Nothing" looping; because moments like that chunk come few and far between, as do albums like Mandala.