Rx Bandits were once a vital and underappreciated part of the Drive-Thru Records roster during the pop-punk boom of the early ‘00s. But since then, the band has quietly morphed its pop-ska sound into something deeper and more mature. The quartet always seemed more ambitious than a lot of its peers, and over the years this has proven true. Sonically, Mandala is a big, rocking record. This is arena rock a lot of the way through with touches of the band’s reggae and ska influences. “Hope is a Butterfly, No Net Its Captor” is the best combination of sounds, moving from stringy guitar jam to propulsive, anthemic rock. The spacey haze of “White Lies” qualifies as perhaps the most left-field track on the album, as it’s built on overlapping vocals and atmospheric effects. And while horns have taken a bit of a backseat in the band’s sound, they still work in subtler doses on “Bury it Down Low”.
While its sound has morphed into more ambitious territory, Rx Bandits have delivered an album that doesn’t always feel all that mature. In fact, much of Mandala feels far too serious. Stumbling lines like “insurgent vicissitude of time” or vague melodramatics like “the path that splits into your soul” make the lines feel overdone and forced. In those moments, Rx Bandits seem to be sacrificing having fun to be taken seriously, and it just doesn’t work. In the end, there is maturity, and there is self-seriousness, and the gap between the two is huge.
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