If ever there were a way to sand off the smugness that often acts as a blighting veneer to the so-called ‘twee’ music, then a good blast of Theremin would be it. This is superbly demonstrated in the opener of Hot Panda’s debut – ‘Cold Hands/Chapped Lips’.
This latest troupe of Canadian glockenspiel enthusiasts come bearing the traits of two primary schools of thought: The Decemberists school of nifty, if dwindling, storytelling and The Shins academy for bright young melodies and daft-as-sherbet rhythms. It’s a combination enough to drive the tweecore to spontaneous combustion, if only for one glaring smear on their credentials. Hot Panda appear all too serious, too well versed even. From the snakes and ladders bassline of ‘Holes’ and ‘I Tried Very Hard’ to the painfully insecure ‘Sweet, Sweet, Sweet’, they don’t donate those lyrical traps to fall into. They somehow lack the humour of grating lines that you can’t refrain from throwing The Little Book of Self-Help at sometimes.
‘Afraid Of The Weather’ vaguely attacks the pessimists with a jolly organ romp and militaristic snare. It feels almost like a carousel, were it not for the repeated bridge and eventual parped middle eight. In a sense this has become unusual: to starkly recognise instrumental sections as carefully prepared as these, since, well, The Decemberists ‘The Mariner’s Revenge Song’.
They find their fully funny stride with the tin-tapping ‘It’s Worth Eight Dollars’ – and even manage to filter in a “ya ya ya” chorus. Spilling into French mid-verse they somewhat spell out the current philosophy “I couldn’t care about many things / politics / Tories or the Brits.” Fellow countrymen Arcade Fire would be doffing caps for the female solo wallowing section that follows, and allows the song to drift into loftier realms momentarily.
Toying with us in their final thoughts, ‘Sexual Frustration’ has the voice of Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard were he obliterated, and simultaneous plays with wit and crass seen in The Eels Souljacker. Here the drive plods abruptly and the singer seems to have sunk a bottle of gin for that engaging mother’s ruin lament. The alternating horn and bass final that slips gleefully into ‘Ghost Town’-feel melody of the keys makes this track a nice obscurity within a sea of fairly similar fish.
For the most part though, the premise is a simple one: they like shouting, especially in groups, about kitsch things – playing dress up, a girl with a whale’s head, and sports victories. Fortunately they are less threatening than cult groups, and this is mainly due to the fact that although well constructed and clearly creative, their songs just don’t astound. Like hoodies they are a symbol of youth; only this time one that comes wearing matching rainbow scarves and Art clogs. Spotting the odd one out is where the difficulty in mixing the schools comes.
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