Canada apparently has examples of almost every type of volcano. In the past decade, it’s also shown us that it has an example of nearly every type of indie-pop group. So how will a new contender, Hot Panda, stand up in the ranks?
Hot Panda’s Volcano… Bloody Volcano opens with Cold Hands/Chapped Lips, a song that contains all the energy of The Go! Team and all the indie-pop charm of The Boy Least Likely To. Shouted back-up vocals punctuate melodious bell and harmonica sounds. It makes for a light, happy-go-lucky pop tune… until a noisy section kicks in with screams and guitars that sound like laser beams.
What happened? Hot Panda risked ruining a great pop song with segments where they unleash raw, visceral emotions, and somehow it makes a great pop song even greater. There’s something unsettling about the noisy segments, of course, but it makes you appreciate the other parts that much more.
Hot Panda continues to defy expectations throughout their debut, arranging time signature changes and strange choral breakdowns with surprising aplomb.
Whale Headed Girl, for example, starts out summoning The Features with grungy guitars and persistent keyboards and ends with a spectral choral section over a type of hoedown music. In between are sections that bounce around so much, it’s hard to pin them down. But at the same time, the diverse sections fuse into each other and hold together very well.
The changes do seem forced, however, on other songs. Afraid Of The Weather is constructed very rigidly around a few disparate sections. Having changes just for the sake of having changes doesn’t ever work. But thankfully, most of Hot Panda’s songs create a smooth transition between segments, following in some powerful indie-pop juxtapositions in the tradition of, say, The Unicorns (a former Canadian band).
Singer Chris Connelly doesn’t sing so much as emote the words. His singing contains an appropriate mix of Bright Eyes‘ Connor Oberst and Hot Hot Heat‘s Steve Bays. Connelly skips around from screams to oohs and ahs to gentle, soft singing, and it’s all supported by a diverse and talented backing band.
The end of Volcano… Bloody Volcano, starting from O Minoa! onward, is comprised of a series of slow to mid-tempo ballads. The energy of the first half of the album is diffused slightly, but Hot Panda start to show off their gentler side, and for the most part it works.
Chinatown Bun glides along smoothly with a lilting guitar and beautiful accordion part. The song sidesteps in a bit of a spicier dance section, but nothing goes over the top. It’s a serene indie-pop ballad with a bit of groove, like something Clap Your Hands Say Yeah could have crafted.
The charm, then, of Hot Panda is their ability to filter different influences into their music across varying song sections. Keeping things interesting, they switch between feels often, and most of the time it works well for them. It’s yet another success from the Canadian indie-pop scene.