The Resignation by RX Bandits
My connection to The Resignation comes out of a whole confluence of factors... my state of mind at the end of high school and the beginning of college, my foreknowledge of the Bandits' other work, my relationship to their genre, and of course, the pure brilliance of the album itself, which only dawned on me over the course of months and years. I'd be happy to talk at length about all those things, but it's getting late, so I'll probably just knock on a few doors and then get out of here.
I've had a steady, affectionate loyalty for ska since the beginning of high school. I knew it as a sort of upbeat second-cousin to pop punk, and I liked how bright and uninhibited it felt in those live shows... when even punk seemed to be putting on airs, projecting artificial toughness and self-conscious misery, ska had this ebullient combination of horns and guitar and island drums, those distinctive stretches where it hit each upbeat, and a lot of fans who seemed to like to dance without wanting to hurt anyone. When punk was threatening, ska was giving me a cooked smile, and I felt like I could form a more personal relationship with that. You couldn't be pedantic or judgmental when you were caught up in such a ridiculous groove.
Still, by the end of high-school, I was working my way through post-hardcore (the kind of ?emo? that still tried to be tough) and I had some new respect for both raw emotion and technical experimentation. The Rx Bandits came on my radar around that time... some of the cuts from their album Progress had made it into my regular rotation of MP3's. I took special note of songs like Analog Boy and All The Time... if this was ska, as the labels and secondary evidence seemed to suggest, it was really twisting the genre into unrecognizable knots.
I'm not sure I could really have described it then, but what I was hearing was a sort of neo-jam-band willingness to draw out gaps and jam in empty spaces of songs. Both songs had killer hooks, like any good punk song, but they also danced around them and toned the pop melodies down into a more rhythmic flow. It was those subdued, hypnotic interstitials that gave those hooky choruses their punch, and I really responded to that.
So in college, I had gone a little further along this evolutionary route... I had discovered Bright Eyes and Bad Astronaut, and was impressed by the broad, carefully-calibrated dynamics those bands used to wring emotion out of short, harsh rock songs. And I kept thinking about the Rx Bandits. So when I heard they had a new album out, I went and picked it up and gave it a listen.
So here's what came together to make Resignation the album that it was: the Bandits had found some success in experimentation, so they decided to really push their creative boundaries. At the same time, they discovered a dense pocket of rage and frustration that their neo-ska-punk groove hadn't been able to relieve. So all at once, they exploded, both technically and emotionally, and the result is a really intense record, an angsty grit-toothed white noise at the confluence of all their circumstances and influences. It was a bit of a perfect storm of an album.
I was hooked and fascinated from the beginning, but I hadn't learned how to take in a whole album at once (I still don't think I know), so I fixated on a few tracks I really loved. Those are still my favorite tracks ? Sell You Beautiful, Prophetic, and Republic.
Sell You Beautiful is the opening track on The Resignation, and it sets the tone for the rest of it ? a collision of harsh, politically-inflected protest lyrics, a driving guitar that occasionally lurches into discord or drops into dead space. The vocals and the guitar accumulate tension and release it in a guttural burst, and then the track seems to reel for a moment, dizzy from its climax, before it recovers and finishes the phrase. The interesting thing about Sell You Beautiful is that there's almost no structure (punk and ska have always been pretty tightly constrained by the verse-chorus-verse framework), and there are no simple hooks. The whole thing is a spring, coiling tighter and tighter, and finally, rather than resolving, it just breaks as the song runs its course.
Prophetic and Republic were my favorites because they had that same balled-up core of tension, but they also had good hooks. It still did a lot for me to hear something simple and repetitive and catchy at the end of each verse. Even now, though, I recognize the discord, the deeper emotional build-up and release, and I know that these two songs got their hooks into me a lot deeper than... just hooks.
As I said, Sell You Beautiful describes the whole album. There are slight variations along the way... Newsstand Rock is a bit more of a primitive, punk-rock chant, although it's still fantastic, as far as those go. Falling Down the Mountain deserves its own write-up ? it's a 5-and-a-half minute slow build of emotion that puts special emphasis on pace and structure ? but it was never my jam like those shorter ones were. At this point, it's pointless to touch on every song. The whole album had such cohesion, such a precise rhythmic and emotional touch, that the whole thing speaks through every song.
The Bandits continued to experiment. Their next album, ...And the Battle Begun, had some of the same angst, but had a steadier, more brooding groove, with more jam-band influence. As for me, I kept looking for music that gave me that same jarring emotional fix that I'd gotten from Sell You Beautiful. In particular, I think that phase when I was listening to The Mars Volta's Deloused in the Crematorium was an echo of my love for The Resignation. It was all about the build-up and release of tension, that sense that so much anger and energy had been stored up that it can't be contained in the instruments any longer.
My wife recently said of my music taste, ?You like music that has kind of a discordant aspect, don't you?? I took a quick self-assessment and said, ?Yeah, I guess I do.? I should have just put on The Resignation and let the Bandits speak for me.
Der Miksic is a poet, writer, blogger, videographer, and graphic designer based in Brooklyn.
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