Review Summary: Rx Bandits outdo themselves and release an album that contains ten times as much progress as Progress.
Think of as many of your favorite bands as you possibly can. It doesn't matter how many, just have a few in mind. Now go across their discographies and find the bands that slowly improved on each of their works as they moved forward. I imagine that the number of bands that fit this criteria is rather small, as only 3 artists came to mind when I performed this task, one of which was flavorless ska group-turned-progressive masterminds Rx Bandits. Formed in 1995, the Bandits emerged as a generic group playing breakneck, groovy ska tunes. As the band steadily grew in popularity, their musical quality followed suit. The band cycled through horn players and bassists throughout all of the '90s before finally settling on a solid lineup and embarking on a journey through the following decade that would yield their finest musical output. The addition of a second guitarist, fret wizard Steve Choi, only helped the band to become stronger and freer in their musical experimentation. His first album with the band, 2003's The Resignation, is a musically brilliant and lyrically thought-provoking masterpiece that blends all of what is good about music and steps it up a notch, with the band never backing down in their quest to prove themselves as true musicians.
Progress displayed all of the Bandits' potential to be a timeless group, specifically in tracks like "Infection" and "Analog Boy" that both widened their influences as well as honed their original sound. The Resignation capitalizes on this potential in the most genius way in that it doesn't at all. This album is a completely different beast to anything prior in the band's catalogue, complete with dual guitars, sudden and immaculate tempo changes, and odd time signatures utilized so often that they begin to feel natural. The horns are no longer used a crutch that the rest of the music relies on, but rather a musical spice that adds flavor and variety to the rest of the band's already fantastic playing, shown most blatantly during the chorus of the ripping "Decrescendo". Some specific tracks that exemplify the Bandits' advancements as a group since their previous album include opener "Sell You Beautiful", which explodes into its crushing main riff with Choi's lead floating over it before drummer Chris Tsagakis leads the group into a jagged 5/8 verse that feels so calculated and groovy that a non-musician wouldn't even notice anything had changed. And of course, one cannot talk about unprecedented change without bringing up album centerpiece "Mastering The List", a seven-minute behemoth layered obsessively with charging horns, extremely technical riffs and solos, hyperactive drumming, and a beautiful three-minute coda that solidifies it as the album's highlight.
While Steve Choi's presence and the new style of writing in the horn lines elevate the music to a new plateau, the two undoubted stars of this album are drummer Chris Tsagakis (aka C-Gak) and vocalist/rhythm guitarist Matt Embree. Tsagakis would descend into even more unhinged polyrhythmic and octopus-like drumming glory on the band's following two records, but his performance on The Resignation still holds some of his best work and shows how meticulous he is about time and leading a band efficiently. His performances on songs with chameleon-like time changes such as "Sell You Beautiful", "Mastering The List", or "Prophetic" showcase how solid he is behind the kit and he proves how musical a drum set can be with his infectious rhythms on "Dinna-Dawg". He propels the band into cyberspace only to help ease them back down on the manic "Decrescendo" and "Newsstand Rock" and grooves with unspeakable prowess on "Overcome". However, my favorite performance of Tsagakis's on this album comes on the seventh track "Republic", which features a beat during the opening riff that is impossible not to bob one's head and/or rock out to.
Matt Embree improved ten-fold both as a vocalist and a lyricist on this record. His protest songs carried much more weight now that he had entered his last twenties, specifically "Sell You Beautiful" and "Newsstand Rock", both of which assault American culture and government so savagely that I'm surprised the songs didn't cause more of an uproar. His message of peace and beauty on "Overcome" is even truer and more necessary than it was ten years ago. However, his most triumphant lyrical and vocal performances come on the impossibly catchy "Never Slept So Soundly", which deals with a subject overdone to the point of being nauseating (lost love) but he gives it such an impressive twist with his writing and vocal delivery that it ends up being an album highlight. His use of harmonization on this album is brilliant, specifically on songs like "Decrescendo" and the maddening end of "Prophetic". The use of multi-tracking on the vocals is clearly meant to accentuate the man's obvious talent, and is not used to mask flaws in vocal performance like multi-tracking so often is these days. His vocals alternate between a delicate croon and a raspy bark that often sends the band into a loud frenzy. His vocals have an undeniable sense of ebb and flow and his skill as a frontman is close to unparalleled, especially if you've seen the Bandits live.
Everything about this album is absolutely perfect. It is easily the band's most consistent record, and because of how consistently enjoyable it is I would go out on a limb and say that The Resignation is Rx Bandits' finest album. Nothing feels out of place or poorly judged, and the way the album flows is smooth in the best possible way, especially how certain tracks transition into one another. Seemingly off-the-wall tempo and key changes in songs like "Mastering The List" or "Falling Down The Mountain" are executed with such precision that the listener cannot imagine the song going in any other direction. The Resignation showed that Rx Bandits were headed into an artistic flourish which continued with their two follow-ups, which hopefully are not their last outputs. The Resignation is the definition of a classic album in that it does new things with music and is still as fresh as it was on its release date.
Literally every song, but if I had to pick just one it would be "Mastering The List" because of how it showcases the talents of each individual band member.