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04 April 2013

Album Review: Panda Riot. Northern Automatic Music.

Album Review: 
Panda Riot.  
Northern Automatic Music.
Release Date: February 19, 2013.
Saint Marie Records.
Review by Ellie Sleeper

If you’ve encountered Panda Riot before, you probably have a pretty good grasp of their formula: buzzy backing guitars, fairly minimal drums that make frequent use of tambourines and shakers, glistening synthesizer voices, and remarkably direct and clear vocals for a shoegaze group. Fortunately, it’s a good formula, as Panda Riot hasn’t really changed it much between 2007’s She Dares All Things and 2013’s Northern Automatic Music. That said, the album does briefly flirt with some different directions for the group, particularly on the album’s second track, “In The Forest (Some Kind Of Night Fills Your Head.” My jaw actually dropped and I was in quite a euphoric mood upon hearing the track; I found its blend of almost dirge-like instrumentation behind very wistful vocals to be intriguing and rousing. 

I would describe the majority of the album as being wistful and whimsical, actually. There’s a definite sense of innocence and a mostly playful attitude throughout. In addition to “In The Forest”, and in contrast to its obscured sense of hope, I would also place the brief and incredibly melodic “Golden Age” as one of the more joyful, rapturous moments on Northern Automatic Music. It speaks of a sense of love, of a very daring energy full of light.

The band manages to sneak in some interesting twists and hooks as well, a good example being the claps and distorted piano break near the end of “Camden Line.” The change in timbre and dynamic is a welcome breath. However, in spite of such clever moments, the album as a whole does drag as most of the songs blur into one another with little distinction. I would consider it as decent background music, and could easily, gladly, and enthusiastically recommend buying a few select racks, but I found the complete work to be kind of lifeless, even though it is blissful and bright.

A lack of distinction between most tracks is a misstep on an album that I can’t easily forgive, and one would expect a few more departures from a band’s routine after six years of songwriting. Bluntly put, Northern Automatic Music is pleasant, but I would advise potential buyers to tread with caution and to consider what they might be getting. If you’ve been absolutely enthralled with what Panda Riot has done before and don’t want them to change a thing, you’re in phenomenal luck. If you hoped they’d branch out with this effort, what you’ll hear may not meet your expectations.

Overall Evaluation
7.0
Standouts: 
“In The Forest (Some Kind Of Night Fills Your Head)” and “Golden Age.”
Goes Great With: 
Asobi Seksu
Pinkshinyultrablast
My Bloody Valentine
The High Violets

3 comments:

  1. Nice job Joshua. I have found that with further listening, besides the whole thing growing on me, that the tracks differentiated themselves from each other more and more over time. In other words, the more I listen, the less samey they sound. I wasn't thrilled (although neither was I disappointed) with the album at first but by now I love it.

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  2. I feel the same about this LP as I do about their first - its very pleasant and they have their own thing going on - they haven't changed a ton since the first record, but its still consistently good, and very Panda.

    I really like Joshua's review because even though he admits to some disappointment, the good things he says about the record are REALLY good. For a self proclaimed "hard-ass" (ha!), Joshua says some very wonderful things about the record. :)

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  3. *bows humbly*
    Thanks for the kind words, everyone. I really struggled with this album. I desperately WANT to like it, truly, but I'd get tuckered out about halfway through every time I tried to listen, no matter what I was doing.
    Every so often, I take a two-hour drive to visit my hometown, and even having the vast expanse of road didn't help me. There were just songs I loved and songs that bored me. None of the songs are failures or bad, but about half are . . . uninteresting.
    That said, the two I pointed out = PHENOMENAL. "In The Forest" will stay in my iPod for some time and is one that I would advise even wary listeners to purchase and to love.

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