Formed nearly twenty years ago as The Pharmaceutical Bandits, Californian quartet RX Bandits is a significantly unique amalgam of laidback vibes and complex instrumentation, culminating in perhaps the first Progressive Ska group I’ve ever heard. Mixing the intricate frenzy of groups like The Mars Volta with the melodic delivery of acts like Sublime and The Dear Hunter, RX Bandits is much more than just a well-established novelty, though, as its newest entry, Gemini, Her Pulse, demonstrates. A tour-de-force of dizzying yet accessible arrangements and intense, catchy songwriting, the album feels as fresh as it does fiery.It’s a damn fine accomplishment from beginning to end.
Of the album, vocalist/guitarist Matt Embree says that it marks the first time they didn’t really attempt to “bridge the gap between our recorded music and our live performance.” Having previously headlined major music events like Bonnaroo and Coachella (as well as released six LPS), the foursome are clearly experts at both methods of performing, so it comes no surprise that this record simultaneously packs a perfect punch of professional production and live energy. It’s biting, raw, and edgy while also being superbly composed.
The disc starts off softly with the aptly titled “intro,” a surreal production consisting mostly of layered vocals echoing phrases like “Come with us” over subdued effects. It’s a bit reminiscent of Fleet Foxes vocally, actually. Afterward, “Ruby Cumulous” provides the disc’s first real song, and it’s a great one. Hypnotic and memorable, its rhythms and staccato guitar riffs dance around the verses and chorus masterfully. On that end, the lyrics offer some fine wordplay, such as, “The love you give is the love you take, and the heart you hold is the one that breaks.” Sure, it’s not brilliant, but it is infectious nonetheless.
“Stargazer” is among the most inviting and straightforward tracks, with wonderful dynamic shifts that never lose momentum. Later, “Fire to the Ocean” kickstarts with the best guitarwork Closure in Moscow never played, and it continues to bring sheer electricity throughout the entire song. “Penguin Marlin Brando” not only offers the most eccentrically perplexing title here, but also the funkiest beats. It’s a cosmic feel-good moment, plain and simple.
Although every option on Gemini, Her Pulse is great, the best one by far is “Will You Be Tomorrow.” It lures listeners in calmly with a psychedelic foundation before issuing the LP’s simplest yet most alluring chorus (which is just the title of the song repeated a few times). It’s a great example of how the most intriguing melodies can also be the humblest and light. This is a song I could listen to endlessly. Ingeniously, the concluding song, “Future, Buddy,” finishes off with the singer counting along as the time signatures change with deceptive ease.
Like many great albums, you wanna hear this one again as soon as it ends.