Former pop-ska figureheads have become a prog rock outfit to be reckoned with
By Simon McCormack
Not so long ago, the RX Bandits were another cog in the gear of what seemed like an unstoppable ska machine. Propelled by bands like the Bandits, along with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Reel Big Fish, the movement swept up millions of teens across the country … for about three months.
As quickly as it came, the ska movement dissipated and has never been the same since. Still, there were plenty of hardcore fans who didn't hurl themselves off the bandwagon and continued to gobble up ska records as soon as they were placed on the shelves. Never a band to disappoint, the Bandits' 2001 Progress turned out punchy ska songs with horns galore, memorable melodies and song structures that were a major improvement over 1999's catchy, if juvenile, Halfway Between Here and There.
Then followed a more telling sign of things to come. The Bandits released their third LP, The Resignation, which was a jarring departure from the group's ska roots. The brief instrumental interludes found on Progress had become densely packed jam-outs. The immediately likable choruses were replaced by tracks with no definable beginning, middle and end. On the first listen, most songs were hard to immediately grasp, drifting away in a sea of drawn out feedback and ever-changing time signatures.
But make no mistake, this journey into new musical territory was not without reward. Upon further listening, The Resignation is a more complete, infinitely more complex album that is arguably better than its predecessors. Unlike any of the previous Bandits releases, The Resignation was recorded live in-studio—a remarkable feat, if one takes into account the layered texture and unpredictable rhythms that form the backbone of the record.
And now, the Bandits' latest effort, …And the Battle Begun, offers further evidence that the band is steadily carving its own private niche in the art/prog rock genre. Confrontational yet often serene, the album was the first to be released by the band's own record label, Mash Down Babylon (MDB) Records. A well-placed horn melody offers the only tangible evidence of the band's past, when their songs were largely about girls or going out on the town, songs that ended promptly in two-and-a-half minutes. (The average track on …And the Battle Begun clocks in at just under five minutes).
After a number of years away from Albuquerque, the RX Bandits will stop by the Sunshine Theater in support of emo hip-hop act Gym Class Heroes, who will headline an all-ages show on Sunday, April 1. You can hear some of the Bandits' latest tunes on the band's MySpace page: myspace.com/rxbandits.
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