The echoes of 80s rock and a new generation of intricate electro-pop melodies reverberate to us through this fresh-faced group from San Antonio, Texas.
The choice of name – The Panic Division – doesn’t seem to quite match the sound: there is nothing panic-inducing or anxious about their music, but perhaps the monicker is designed to appeal to those who would seek to be funky, punky and on the edge without getting too dangerous.
Versus is the group’s first album on the Militia Group label, but they have previously recorded two albums while unsigned. The band has worked hard to get to where it is today, but still has a long way to go. Now revered by the San Antonio community as a local treasure, The Panic Division deserves to have a future – and Versus will be purchased by later fans in order to complete their record collections with “an early rough-cut gem from The Panic Division boys".
An evocative collage of loops, riffs and vocals – all skillfully adhered together but lacking a real central thread – results in an experience reminiscent of the progress of an opera. The title track on Versus is the overture, the following tracks set the scene, in "Little Child" we have a small interlude and then the album reaches a crescendo with "Sweet Devotion" at track #7, where the shouting and the raw side of rock is orchestrated just to the right side of noise.
It does not surprise me one bit to discover that the group’s creative process often spawns from the electro-synth loops and that many tracks are constructed around them, rather than the reverse. This could explain why track #4, "Paradise", a Duran-Duran-esque chart-worthy electro-pop track stands out to me as easily the strongest on the album. It’s the only track I keep singing along to; the only one that sticks in my head for days afterwards and makes little shivers run down my spine.
And this is the only problem with the group – the sound is almost too easy to get into, too easy to tune into the background, not memorable enough in its own right – yes, this music is full of feeling, it is music for the road; music for moments alone, music you reach out for when turning a new leaf, music you think back to when you’re far away from home – but which tunes would you really remember?
Having listened to this album for some weeks now, I can always recall the way it made me feel, but only a couple of songs come back to me as complete melodies. This suggests that whilst the group is definitely polished, well put together and likeable, they also lack a certain edge – something to make your ears perk up and tell their sound apart from the hubbub of easy-to-digest rock-pop out there. They have created a rich tapestry, but need to weave in a strong story.
The experience would probably be perfectly suited to a live performance and luckily enough, the Panic Division are currently touring in the USA. Check the website for dates and locations.