Panda Riot’s “Far & Near”

“They may be plain cute on the outside, but Panda Riot knows how to pack that soft punch and keep you listening. Although, if you’re not one for multiple listens, this may be the album you skip this year.” -Victoria Phetmisy

Victoria Phetmisy

6.5
out of 10

Panda Riot
Far & Near
May 11, 2010
Mirror/ Mirror Records

When I heard the name “Panda Riot,” I instantly thought of an adorable mesh of black, white, red, and fuzzy pandas, chewing (as ferociously as your mind will let you imagine) on bamboo sticks and leaves, while waving their limbs in the air. Adorable.

And then I realized I initially forgot that pandas are a bit scary and could even be described as deathly violent, bloodthirsty, man-eating bears. OK, it’s not that extreme, but their innocent façade leaves you fantasizing about how cute it would be to hold one. Now take that image, put it at the forefront of your mind, raise your arms and you’ve got Panda Riot’s Far & Near.

Based in Chicago, the quartet describes their music as “dream-pop dance” and it’s quite close to what I would describe them as, too. The sounds enveloped through the album lend a hand to a childlike-dreamlike state, where fields of daisies actually seem to exist near elementary school backdrops.

The EP opens with “Julie (In Time)” and on first listen, it’s very cute. It starts out slow, with a few notes pulling you in and building up that wave of sound in your ears. The music swells as singer Rebecca Scott’s breathy soprano laces through each swirling beat. Her soft and trancelike voice singing, “I close my eyes and find my way around you” leaves you slowly swaying.  The song dips in and out of flowing lyrical wind chimes, though it’s a bit thrown together. The vocal tracks are stacked on top of one another, trying to give the song its hazy, other-world feel, but instead leave me a little out of focus, though still floating.

The song then drops off and leaves you feeling ready to chill out with the rest of Panda Riot’s ethereal sounds. The second track, “Motown Glass,” picks up with a quick drumbeat, a dose of innocence, and throws you in a sugary field of daisies. At least that’s where I went.  It’s endearing, but leaves me a bit frustrated with Scott’s vocal talent. She seems to dip in and out of key when the chorus flows in and the bobbing beat becomes a bit distracting, as the sound of her voice is echoing on top of itself over and over.

The rest of the songs follow this similar structure: bring in a gentle, dance-y beat and repeat it throughout the entire song; Add in Scott’s airy soprano voice, those childlike images, and some repetitious lyrics parading on top of one another, and you’ve got the rest of the album. It’s cute, catchy, and makes me want to keep listening.

Panda Riot is definitely headed in the right direction with their musical personality.  The songs they placed together on Far & Near give them a naivete that is only matched by new bands just starting to figure out their sound.  Panda Riot is doing a good job of that and though some of their arrangements may sound a little muddled, the message underneath the lyrics will keep you listening, even reaching out to that field of flowers.

They may be plain cute on the outside, but Panda Riot knows how to pack that soft punch and keep you listening.  Although, if you’re not one for multiple listens, this may be the album you skip this year.