Let’s see if we can get through this review without using the word ska (that’s one) too frequently. After all, Rx Bandits haven’t been a true ska band (that’s two) in 13 years, more than twice as long as they were one. With 2001’s Progress, they started to experiment with spacier influences and time signatures, a trend that increased with The Resignation and …And the Battle Begun, where they were more like a prog band with horns. Then, on 2009’s Mandala, they were a prog band without horns. With Gemini, Her Majesty, they probably just prefer prog band, or, like so many musicians, no genre at all.
That’s understandable. As much as we resort to using them, musical labels are, more often than not, for the birds. On the other hand, it’s important to mention the Bandits’ earlier work when talking about Gemini, because the album’s best moments are more rooted in their ska (three) and pop punk past. Early tracks “Wide Open” and “Star Gazer” both come to life not in their noodly verses but in their sugary choruses, effectively balancing the band’s more experimental leanings with anthemic accessibility. Similarly, Matthew Embree’s voice continues to be an invaluable weapon — he’s one of the only guys who can sing in a faux Spanish accent without being grating — and his current lyrical ambiguity outshines the on-the-nose politics of mid-career cuts like “In All Rwanda’s Glory” and “Sell You Beautiful”. Space is a huge theme, sure, but it’s often mixed with relationship issues and temptation, as on “Star Gazer”: “Shining too bright/ Plummeting to Earth/ Oblong orbit set to collide/ Sold to fashion.”
Instrumentally, though, the cosmic shit gets to be a slog, especially on the album’s back half. The celestial harmonics of “Will You Be Tomorrow” quickly grow numbing, and “Meow! Meow! Space Tiger” churns endlessly in an orbit of reggae, starry synth effects, and video game guitars, never living up to the fun implications of its title. “Penguin Marlin Brando” is equally busy, suggesting that the misspelling of the performer’s name is intentional. Leave it up to an overly trippy album like Gemini, Her Majesty to not only mix one of the most eccentric actors ever with an aquatic bird, but also a giant fish.
Essential Tracks: “Wide Open”, “Star Gazer”