Scene Point Blank 2006 - "There is a startling disparity between the Rx Bandits' 1997 debut Those Damn Bandits and …And the Battle Begun if you listen to them back to back, yet the progression makes perfect sense if you listen to their discography in order. In just a hair under a decade the band has reinvented themselves numerous times over five albums; a feat that few bands accomplish while managing to keep an identifiable sound that transcends the stylistic changes from album to album.

It is amazing that a simple ska-punk band could evolve into the progressive beast they are now, showcasing different facets of their tremendous talent with each release. The Rx Bandits' last release, 2003's masterpiece The Resignation, felt largely organic, blending punk with a flavor of ska and acid jazz that matched the nearly flawless hooks and sweeping choruses belted out by vocalist Matt Embree.

To put it simply, however absurd and terrible the idea may be, …And the Battle Begun sounds like At the Drive-In playing with Sublime; a combination that sounds like it would be an absolute disaster. Yet the Rx Bandits do more than pull it off - they nail it perfectly, striking a balance between the technical and melodic aspects, seemingly playing them off one another.

…And the Battle Begun retains elements of The Resignation but the music no longer has an organic feel. Rather, it has an angular and acute bite, taking the technical aspects heard in The Resignation, such as the solo in "Decrescendo," and fleshing them out into entire songs. This album is bouncy, mathematical and can stop on a dime to change gears all while providing the vocal melodies and reggae-ska delivery that is characteristic of the Rx Bandits.

Like laying a mattress over a bed of nails, Embree's voice counters the often jagged and sharp nature of the music. His style of singing has not changed, and has perhaps even improved, but the most noticeable change in the vocals is the way the band harmonizes with him and becomes one voice instead of backup at multiple points in the record, including the entire 46 second intro track. My only gripe with the vocals is a matter of preference: the massive choruses that have often populated the band's earlier songs are a bit toned down and at times misleading. For example, when the music begins to build in the first song "…And the Battle Begun", it is expected that a huge chorus will erupt - but never does. After getting used to it, it does not bother me, but the opportunity for a potentially fantastic chorus was there and it completely threw me off when he sings in a softer voice instead of at the top of his lungs.

Lyrically, the record is just as good, if not better than, previous albums. "Tainted Wheat" is one of the most well-written songs I've heard all year, particularly the second half: We weave a tale of our stark heroics / Swaying the public from our bully pulpits / Create illusions for imperial schemes / poor against the poor for democracy... And that is just part of it as Embree continues to let loose an eloquent arrangement of words criticizing our government.

Overall, even though I prefer the organic and sometimes epic feel of their last album, the Rx Bandits' …And the Battle Begun is a very worthy follow-up. It is a sound that cannot be heard from any other band, bringing together prog and ska, two genres that no one would expect to sound good when mixed together, all while doing it with ease and style."

And So I Watch You From Afar

And So I Watch You From Afar have applied to their fourth album the same rigorous work ethic that has seen them touring nearly non-stop all over the world in recent years — including less common tour stops like China, Russia, India and Africa. Heirs is both the band's most painstakingly created album as well as its most personal and meaningful. "Its central theme is about the inheritance of ideas," the band says. "In that we're all heirs to other peoples' passion, which in turn inspires ourselves."

Many new lives, new imperatives and invigorated perspectives helped shape the 10-song album borne of over 30 tracks written in prolific isolation spanning over 6 months in the band's Belfast, Northern Ireland home. It's a work of intense focus and adventurous abandon that reaches to the heart of artistic expression.

"We started making the album while touring in 2013," guitarist Rory Friers explains. "We would be recording demos in our hotel rooms, back stage and we would even hire out rehearsal rooms during days off." Being the first album with new guitarist Niall Kennedy (who joined as a touring member in 2012), the band grew increasingly productive taking half a year off from the road and working nearly every waking moment together in their rehearsal room. Friers and Kennedy, along with drummer Chris Wee and bassist Johnathan Adger amassed about 30 new songs, which were then whittled down to 15 tracks. Of those 15, only 10 songs made the final cut, carefully selecting those that best represented the ideas and feelings the band wanted to express with the album.

"Its called Heirs as a tribute to a lot of new people who came into all our lives during the writing and recording of the album — lots of nephews and Johnny had a daughter, Eisa," Friers explains. "It seems like the songs soaked up all those feelings we had during the writing. Because making the album was such an intentionally intense and full time experience none of us where listening to much other music or even experiencing much else outside of it. So, it feels like a very pure representation of what happens when these four people decide to make music together. It was a very intense time and the record has been shaped by that."

Album opener "Run Home" kicks things off with a flurry of hammer-on guitar notes and a chorus of voices chanting the two words of the song title as the band races toward the anthem's explosive conclusion. Elsewhere, Wee's maniacal double-time rolling toms, Adger's rumbling heavily-distorted bass and murmuring guitar notes drive the perpetually buzzing (and fittingly titled) "Wasps" as reverb-drenched voices howl above the proceedings until banshee wail harmonized guitars erupt, nearly decimating everything in their path. "A Beacon, A Compass, An Anchor" takes a slow build approach, starting out with melancholy chords fading in to a pulsing 3/4-time driving rhythm section and muted, scraped guitars leading to a soaring harmonized guitar leads. The album title track is also its longest at seven and a half minutes, and fittingly as explorative as all that went into the album's creation. Staccato guitar chords lead into an impossibly complex time signature as half-time drums and bass drop in while a heavily-effected guitar lead veers throughout the tune. All of those elements converge into an anthemic melody that peaks with a simple, infectious hook in the last 1:27 that ties Heirs up concisely with its deliberate, determined power.

Heirs will be available everywhere on LP, CD and download on May 4th, 2015 via Sargent House.

$22 ADV / $25 DOS


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