Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Record review: Panda Riot - 'Northern Automatic Music'

By Gene Wagendorf III 

Fluttering atmospherics and a snappy drumbeat give way to a waterfall of fuzzed-out guitars and satin cooing, signalling the start of Northern Automatic Music. The record is Panda Riot's first since 2011's Far and Near EP, and represents a logical and welcome evolution in the group's sound.

Still present is Panda Riot's signature dynamic- Brian Cook's cloud of humming guitars swarming Rebecca Scott's spectral lullaby- but here the band seems to have placed a little more emphasis on magnetism. Smartly tucked beneath the gaze are strong pop hooks and enchanting melodies that invite the listener to zoom in as much as to space out. On "In the Forest (Some Kind of Night Fills Your Head)," Scott follows drummer José Rodriguez's determined stride with a haunting innocence, the way a lost child follows a familiar sound. At the song's stark resolution Rodriguez abandons the singer, leaving only a slight organ murmur to light her path. "Black Pyramids" moves with a more taut electricity. à la Metric's '09 record Fantasies. Cook's guitar runs wild on the track, but is always smartly lassoed before he loses control. When he jerks the reins for a shimmering mid-tune breakdown, Scott carries the melody until the guitars can't be held back any longer.

The band excels on its instrumental tracks as well. The twinkling optimism of "Golden Age" evokes all the feelings of pleasantly waking to a sun-warmed and bright world, while "Encrypted Wilderness" explores a darker solitude. Two of these vocal-less tracks sandwich "Good Night, Rich Kids," a pop-ballad led by Brian Cook's buzz-saw strings. The song, while not the strongest on Northern Automatic Music, is a fine example of what Panda Riot does right on the record. The guitar jangles as much as it fizzles, while limber bass lines and tight percussion render the tracks with a warmth not typically associated with shoegaze. Scott's vocals are perfectly placed in the mix and the song is just plain fucking catchy.

Northern Automatic Music is a stellar record, and one that's as much a looking-glass as any I've heard in a while. If you're feeling chipper while listening, the songs will vibrate with joyous energy. If you're feeling a bit down, they'll speak to that despair. This versatility is as much a strength of the album's as it is of Panda Riot as a band. As enjoyable as the band's previous output has been, Northern Automatic Music is their most well-rounded and engaging work to-date.

Panda Riot's 'Northern Automatic Music' is out now on Saint Marie Records. The record is available digitally and on compact disc here. Check the video for "Black Pyramids" below.

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