Thursday, January 8, 2009

Album: Panda Riot - She Dares All Things

Album: She Dares All Things
Self-Released, 2007/2008
Rating: ******** (8/10)

I try to focus on new releases in this review, but I didn’t have a chance to write this one up in a timely manner, since it came out well before I started the site. And I really want to write it up anyway, because I’m pretty damn sure you’re going to love it.

If you are a fan of My Bloody Valentine, it’s easy to describe Panda Riot: you know that last song on Loveless? Well, that’s what they sound like. If that doesn't mean anything to you, imagine the main shoegaze hallmarks – fuzzed-out guitars, dense walls of sound, understated vocals, notes bending in and out of pitch and ungodly amount of reverb – all of that, plus a dancey, trip-hop inspired beat. Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.

Panda Riot obviously isn’t the first band to incorporate these elements, but they are, without a doubt, one of the best bands of the bunch. Most praiseworthy are their solid waves of guitar, which could easily knock a shoegazer off his gazed-at feet. The vocals are simple and mixed low, but they are confident and most of the time, they propel the songs forward very well.

It’s not a perfect album, but most of the problems come not from anything bad, but rather from missed opportunities. The band could definitely benefit from using more dynamic and self-standing bass lines. Most importantly, they could improve their use of rhythm in all parts. That includes the drum-machine-generated beats, which tend to use pretty conventional patterns. It also includes the guitar, vocals and bass, when seem a little over-infatuated with quarter-notes. In some cases, steady 4/4 rhythms are charming, but in others, they just feel like lost potential.

As with most shoegaze, the music is a bit formless on both the album level and the song level, but it still maintains a poppy feel that will hold your attention. And sure, there are some unmemorable songs on the album - but for the most part, Panda Riot achieves good variety, some songs heavier and fuller, some more electronic, some with more open space, some with more emphasis on the vocals.

All in all, it’s an impressive album and even a valuable contribution to the shoegaze/trip-hop genre. Pop-accessible but experimental, catchy but thoughtful, it’s music just about anyone could enjoy.

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