Lucky Shiner, the debut album from Gold Panda, now seems so long-awaited that it’s hard to believe that its download release has come as an early surprise. After a series of high profile remixes and singles, it’s now a little easier to get a firmer grasp of the Gold Panda sound, beneath all the hype and anticipation.
Like many contemporary instrumental solo artists, Gold Panda seems unwilling to fit into any neat conventional genre boxes – contemporary electronic music, for instance, or dance music. Instead it seems every bit as thoughtful as it is physical, emphasising feelings and sensations as much as impulses and desires. It is a remarkably balanced album, with its various elements held in a careful and effective equilibrium.
The music drifts effortlessly between bright effervescence and dreamy, eerie moods. The opener You occupies similarly ecstatic terrain to the title track from Four Tet‘s excellent recent album There Is Love In You. The manipulated, pitch altered vocals make for a blissful contrast with the slow underpinning rhythm which somehow seems as if it’s dragging the track back from the edge. The by now familiar Snow And Taxis moves from ghostly, unassuming beginnings to something quietly and gracefully beautiful.
Even when the music here is at its simplest, as on the aforementioned Snow And Taxis or the hazy Marriage, which seems to hark back to early ’90s popular dance music, there is always a hint of quirky charm rendering the music vital and individual. Marriage seems to come with a peculiar, superimposed Eastern-sounding melody that disappears from the mix with unusual rapidity. Vanilla Minus cleverly syncopates what is essentially a one note riff. Gold Panda often seems to enjoy teasing his listeners with brief ideas, while extending his simplest motifs to their logical conclusion and beyond. It’s a playful approach that could be frustrating in less capable hands, but Lucky Shiner is a ceaselessly rewarding, warm and endearingly human collection of music.
It’s hard to pick out highlights on an album that is so well crafted and sequenced, but the brilliantly titled I’m With You But I’m Lonely, with its bursts of frenetic ideas interspersed with moments of melancholy calm, works particularly well. This is perhaps chiefly because it expresses the sentiment of its title in dramatically simple terms. Equally impressive is the intricate, cumulatively revelatory Same Dream China, which succeeds in marrying intense energy with consideration and patience.
Lucky Shiner would not be quite as successful without its moments of unexpected dignity. Parents is built on a delicate but rather rough around the edges acoustic guitar strum. It is deliberately untutored, and characterised by a sense of vulnerability and compassion sometimes absent from electronic music. The dense layers of fuzz on Before We Talked and After We Talked emphasise that the two are companion pieces, and serve not merely to obfuscate but also to create a sense of empathy.
This is an album full of interesting sounds, from unusual cut up vocal samples to clanging percusssion or atmospheric synths. Whilst it draws from a long lineage of various dance music sub-genres, the intelligence and patience with which it has been constructed make sure that Gold Panda stands out as a talent with tremendous potential.