Mandala is another stunning effort by Rx Bandits. The band’s sixth studio album is a fiercely creative and visionary collection of songs. The band, which started out playing Southern California ska in the late 1990s and eventually signed with Drive-Thru Records, has evolved since then and through subsequent albums to where it is now: on Sargent House Records, a small independent label that is home to other unique bands such as Good Old War, Tera Melos, Maps and Atlases, Zechs Marquise, and Red Sparowes.
Gone are the horns that were such a big part of the band’s sound on 2001’s Progress and later through 2003’s The Resignation and 2006’s …And the Battle Begun.
Only on “Bury it Down Low” is there any real trace of brass on Mandala, but it is used more in a hushed, secondary way, a radical change that the band has chosen to make in order to continue to grow and evolve musically.
Instead, the band, comprised of Matt Embree (vocals/guitar), Steve Choi (guitar/keyboard), Joe Troy (bass) and Chris Tsagakis (drums) elected to challenge themselves yet again and redefine their sound. Album opener My Lonesome Only Friend starts off quietly and builds into a frenetic energy that makes the song intense and captivating. Mientras la Veo Sonar is a six-minute jam that includes both Spanish and English lyrics, culminating in an instrumental break at the end of the song. Each tune on the album retains its own flavor and energy, and as a result they all flow together seamlessly.
With Mandala, the band has managed to capture its intense and often jaw-dropping live show in the studio. White Lies is a highlight, with its slower, brooding tempo and Embree’s lyrics concerning trying to combat hopelessness and loneliness in a quest to “find something tangible”. A similar lyrical theme is found in Hope is a Butterfly, No Net its Captor (Virus of Silence), dealing with the kinds of emotions felt by people stuck in middle class life. All the songs on Mandala have an addictive quality to them that make you want to restart the album once it has finished. At times, the band is able to quiet down into dub reggae-esque passages, brooding along with infectious guitar melodies until the song climbs back up to a frenetic Mars Volta-like explosion of energy. That helps make the songs as addictive as they are.
That they were able to lose the ska classification and find a way to continue their precipitous evolution shows how talented these guys are. They have repeatedly referred to themselves as “groove-tech”, a title that fits them exceptionally well. The songs on Mandala are the culmination of 10+ years of musical adaptation and tight musicianship, and find Rx Bandits clearly on the absolute top of their game. Rx Bandits write beautiful songs about life that are filled with a passion and honesty that sets the band part from its peers. You’d be hard-pressed to find another band currently out there that is as unabashedly creative and passionate as Rx Bandits, and that is made supremely evident with the new record, Mandala.