Gold Panda Gold PandaCompanion
Gold Panda’s debut album “Lucky Shiner” was one of last year’s sleeper hits, its skittishly danceable electronica earning rave reviews across the board and beating better-known artists such as Tinie Tempah to The Guardian newspaper’s First Album Award. Its slow-burning success surprised no one more than Mr. Derwin Panda himself. See, he never made music to impress people. He was just one of the many people all over the globe who spend countless hours hunched up over laptops, sampling, splicing and sequencing into the small hours for nought but personal satisfaction. Derwin never expected his music to be heard by anyone other than his friends. Luckily for us those friends convinced him that the music was too good to keep to himself. Luckier still a host of labels agreed, releasing three EPs ( “Miyamae”, “Quitters Raga” and “Before”) that paved the way for “Lucky Shiner”s assault on our collective aural consciousness.
Those EPs have now been compiled (with a bonus track) for Gold Panda’s latest release. “Companion”s format encourages comparisons with The Beta Band’s breakthrough record “The Three Eps”, and shares its predilection for ambitious sonic psychedelia. However, it also shares that record’s occasional disjointedness. Whereas “Lucky Shiner” felt very much a complete beast, thematically and emotionally consistent, “Companion” sometimes stutters when it should sing. This is mostly due to the tracks being sequenced in chronological order, one EP after the other with the previously unreleased “Police” tacked onto the end, and interesting though it is to be able to see his musical progression time-lined so, the track-listing might have benefited from a more inventive arrangement.
The music also suffers slightly from the comparison to the album it foreshadowed. “Quitters Raga” was the track that first gained him recognition and it still sounds fresh today, but its eastern samples and melodic glitchiness are elements that Derwin refined with more subtlety later on. Similarly, the solid 4/4 dance-floor rhythm that pounds through “Mayuri” here is evident in a more restrained, less bombastic form on recent single “Marriage”. The technical skill and musical intuition on “Companion” is every bit as impressive as on “Lucky Shiner”, it’s just that on the latter his craft feels a little more honed, the quirks smoothed out in favour of a fuller whole.
These temporal comparisons are a bit unfair though, as “Companion” does contain some astonishingly beautiful music. “Lonely Owl” makes you feel like an indolent romantic poet who’s just woken up hungover in a Victorian music school, combining the bucolic folksiness of Bibio’s early work with a smooth breakbeat of the sort Aidan Moffat favours when operating under his L. Pierre pseudonym. “Back Home” is another gorgeous effort, combining typically fluid high-frequency string samples with thumping low-frequency rhythms, while “Fifth Ave” could be a hidden track from Four Tet’s “Rounds” album with its delicate wistfulness and backwards acoustic guitar. Most fascinating though is “Win-san Western”, which layers a catchy chiming pattern over the sort of schizoid breakcore that Tom Jenkinson would stroke his beard in appreciation of. It’s a direction it would be interesting to see Derwin pursue in future, which makes it a shame that closer “Police” instead opts for a synth n’ snare workout that though also high-tempo is not nearly as exciting.
There’s a lot to be admired here however, and if you missed out on these EPs first time round then this is a great way to catch up. However it is, as the title suggests, very much a companion piece to Mr. Panda’s début full-length. The problem he now faces is the awareness that he’s not making music for a few mates in his bedroom any more; an ever-increasing army of admirers are awaiting his next proper album with baited breath. If he can handle that pressure and continue producing music as captivating as “Companion” often is, a bright future beckons.
Kier Wiater Carnihan
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