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09 June 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: Panda Riot | Infinity Maps.

Chicago’s premier dream gazers have dropped their self-released album. With 18 tracks, it runs out to 50 minutes or so and is chock full of great tunes. The band contacted me about a month ago and asked me to review the album. I guess they liked the last review I concocted for their Saint Marie release, so there you have it. I would have gladly reviewed the album anyway, as it’s a stellar piece of work. Engineered by guitarist and audiophile Brian Cook in the band’s East Garfield Park studio, it gave Cook lots of time to obsessively construct complex and carefully conceived sonic layers, some of which sample other tracks on the album. He even built his own guitar pedals to create the perfect tone when things weren’t working in his mind. The end result of a four year wait is this sonic marvel of an album. To say it surpasses their last record is an understatement. This release is dreamy headphone music that will send you soaring as its layers unfold and reveal themselves.

Opening track “Aphelion” contains all the classic shoegaze hallmarks, including distorted guitar patterns, woozy veils of sound, and Rebecca Scott’s cooing vocals. “Helios (June 20th)” is another classic burn down the house tune, with guitars reminding me a bit of Smashing Pumpkins on the main chorus. “Latitudes” is a short, spacey instrumental ambience, and it’s a lovely interlude.

“Ghosting” is catchy as hell, with luminous vocal and guitar interplay. Simply wonderful! “Chimera” shimmers and shines like all the best shoegaze, and its mesmeric wall of sound will entrance even the most jaded listener. “Double Dream” is edgy and borders on post punk; the downcast tempo married with murky synthesizer works well. “Arrows” is bright, cheerful dream pop, and it morphs silkily into the piano driven, minimalist piece “Parachute”. It’s another melodic break from heavier material, and I find that I enjoy these interludes. It showcases another side to the band, and indicates a possible direction for future ventures. “Night Animation” is chiming and soft, heavenly at its heart and gauzy at its edges. It is floating in the clouds music. “Parallels” is a ridiculously pretty and trippy short break, revealing that psychedelia is also not far from the band’s core sound.

The title track “Infinity Maps” is crunchy, swooning shoegaze that lasts little over a minute! I want more! Beautiful work. The instrumental “Niagara” is even shorter at 33 seconds and it will snare you instantly. “New Colors” is splendid ear candy, while “Aurora Shift” is a chilly synth pop break. The marvelously titled “Glass Cathedrals” is too short at 40 seconds, but thankfully it merges into the less ephemeral and solid “Gold Lines”. It’s another entrancing tune, with guitars that will dash away any foggy thoughts. “Otherside” dips into vintage dream pop a la Beach House, and then the record shuts down with 55 seconds of psychedelic noodling and sweet crooning from Rebecca on “Magic Numbers”. It’s a shorter record than I would have liked, and while I really enjoyed the shorter songs, I could have also used longer, more substantive tunes. The group has done a fine job with this record, and it’s sure to please old fans and new fans just exploring the shoegaze and dream pop genres. Well done!