NMWYH Rating: out of FIVE stars.
Let’s kick it off with one of the most promising releases this early year, 90 Day Men’s Panda Park, which was issued a few weeks ago by Southern Records. From the reading that work has permitted me in the past few busy weeks, Panda Park is one of the most anticipated underground rock albums in recent months.
Panda Park overflows with Eno-esque linear prog-pop progressions in which beauty and soulfulness pervade. The musical compositions of these seven songs are rich and complex, and the instrumentation is singular in present underground rock relying on the piano (and organ) as a driving force. Keeping the piano in check is a brilliant array of orchestral maneuvering, impeccable timekeeping, and acoustic guitar.
To illustrate, check out the spellbinding “Too Late or Too Dead,” one of the best tracks I’ve heard all year with its urgent piano melodies, shimmering guitar, and marching rhythm. Also captivating is “When Your Luck Runs Out,” in which Andy Lansangan’s piano skills are translated into a tripped-out keyboard stomp. Or check out the sprawling eight-and-a-half minute epic closer, “Night Birds,” that best evidences the album’s masterful balance between electronic experimentalism and acoustic prowess.
The dual vocal attack is also intriguing, alternating between Case’s whispery mutterings and Lowe’s yelps that recall Jeff Buckley singing with his nuts in a sling. While Lowe’s wailing is, at times, a bit theatrical, it ultimately is used with reservation and, consequently, does not overtake the stunning intstrumentation. The most significant detraction from Panda Park is the appearance of a third vocalist on “Silver and Snow,” the album’s penultimate track. While the musical composition of the track remains on par with the other six tracks, the exaggerated vibrato vocals remind me of a 1950s Las Vegas lounge singer. No doubt, the guy’s got a great voice. It just seems wholly misplaced on this album (especially if added solely for kitsch value), and has prompted me to program MusicMatch to skip over the song.
Panda Park will almost certainly appear on my year-end best-of list, my dislike of one song notwithstanding. You claim you’re looking for a different brand of rock? Now you’ve found it. Panda Park is not for the masses, but it will satisfy your need for creative and intelligent music.
For more musings on the best independent music, the music industry, and the like, swing by No Matter What You Heard.