As is so often the way Panda Riot were born by accident when founding members Brian and Rebecca suddenly realised they needed some music for the short film they were working on together. An EP called Far and Near surfaced last summer, but it's finally time for the band to unleash their debut album proper on the world.
They do just that on Northern Automatic Music, a record that kicks its heels and sets off in a cloud of hazy guitars and swooning vocals. It's a blueprint that they follow for the majority of the forty-minutes here.
Thankfully their ability to create both variance and wonder from just those two basic elements means that this record often, and beautifully, becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The aforementioned opening number “Amanda In The Clouds” is a glorious slice of indie rock; the shoegaze-y guitars and loose percussion contrast beautifully against Rebecca's vocal, creating the kind of urgent and atmospheric dreamscapes that Mew build around their listener so brilliantly. On the first few listens, it's actually those Danish rockers that this record most recalls. “In The Forest (Some kind of night fills your head)” is a creepy journey through pounding piano keys and yearning lyrics of love lost, while the five-minute closing track “Camden Line” rises and falls through huge slabs of guitar noise and subtle moments of clarity.
The band themselves have said they were far more concerned with textures on this record, and it shows. The acoustic breakdown, complete with odd noise samples, during the middle of the title track is a much needed breath of fresh air, while the short, instrumental “Golden Age” acts as the albums centre-piece and is a glorious shimmer of restrained dreampop.
Any record treading the shoegaze path has the propensity to get lost within itself. Thankfully though this is something the band realise and it's these little meanders away from the records standard structure that offer the most reward. The 'dreampop' genre is one they return to on the delightful “Black Pyramids”; the wall-of-noise guitars only dipping in occasionally, allowing Rebecca's most affecting vocal on the record to take centre stage above a tapestry of hand-clap percussion and playful, fractured keys.
While the driving guitars are undoubtedly the protagonist here, it’s the moments that they're relinquished - when a balance is created - that offer the greatest reward. At times, Northern Automatic Music is a dense, almost hypnotic journey, but, importantly, it’s never a murky one. There are cracks to be found, and when the light finds its way in, Panda Riot shine wonderfully bright.
Release: 19th February 2013, Saint Marie Records