There is a certain anxiety inherent to a new release from one of your favorite bands, especially if it’s a reunion album. The upside is obvious – you’re fairly likely to enjoy a new album from a band that you already like. And yet what if you don’t like the new release because it, in no uncertain terms, sucks? What if one of your favorite bands releases a new album and it’s just not appealing in any way?
This seems to happen quite a bit. In some ways, especially if you’re the nostalgic type, it might be easier if your favorite bands never made anything new, leaving the past as perfect as you remember/imagine it to be. Part of the reason why groups like The Beatles and Nirvana sit atop such high thrones in the pantheon of beloved bands is that they never got back together and tarnished their legacies with some slapped-together new material. Well, mostly.
There are few musical experiences, though, that are more rewarding than delving into a favorite band’s new album and actually enjoying it. These types of release provide both familiarity and novelty and the sense that, with each song, your personal list of ‘songs I love’ is growing. It can be a beautiful thing. And thankfully that’s the kind of experience I’ve been having over the past few days with RX Bandits’ Gemini, Her Majesty, their first album since 2009.
Though the production values and irreverent song titles (‘Meow! Meow! Space Tiger’ and ‘Penguin Marlon Brando’) start right where the Bandits’ last release, Mandala, left off, there is less similarity in the composition. Gemini is an upbeat, catchy record – a step away from the jam-session vibe associated with much of Mandala – and may in fact be the single most concise record that the Bandits have made. There’s no excess material here. Harmonies are tight, breakdowns are short, and interludes (typically an RXB staple) are essentially non-existent.
Gemini is also a Bandits record, though. There are plenty of key and time signature changes and the album’s sound is in that mysterious groove-rock niche that only the Bandits seem capable of adequately exploring. Those who unfairly discredit RXB as a ska band may be surprised to learn that you’ll hear nary a horn on Gemini, although if you’ve been paying attention you know that that’s been the case for the last few Bandits albums now.
As with the last handful of RXB records, Matt Embree’s lyrics make a few vague allusions to other works (I noticed references to The Beatles’ Abbey Road as well as to, of all things, The Lord of the Rings) and bounce back and forth between abstract and simplistic – which are sometimes the same thing. And, in typical RXB fashion, the album closes with a powerhouse track that sums up the sonic aspirations of the album as a whole. As such, you’ll be wanting to listen – and sing along – to ‘Future, Buddy’ quite a bit.
To say that Gemini, Her Majesty is the best of the swarm of reunion records that have peppered the scene in recent years is probably true and yet it also does the album a disservice. Reunion or not, it’s a great record. One that should legitimately be ranked among RX Bandits’ best. And that’s saying something.