(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Recording review - Gold Panda, Half of Where You Live (2013)

Meditative travelogue wrapped in a bubble

Gold Panda’s Half Of Where You Live is a trance-inducing travelogue. This is his second full album after the well-received Lucky Shiner. He continues to mine the same Southeast Asian influences from his earlier work, but this time he extends them with the sonic imprints from other corners of his far-ranging touring experiences, including North and South America. Each track finds its own meditative flavor and sense of time or place. Synthesizer washes and jittery techno beats lay the foundation, but the album is spiced up with a wide variety of instruments from delicate chimes to marimba, as well as vocal and musical sampling. Unlike his remix projects over the last couple of years, this album works best when taken as a whole. A few songs muster enough personality to stand alone, like “Flinton” and “An English House”, but the whirlwind world tour feel of the collection makes a stronger statement than any single track.

“Flinton” rolls by with a lazy, glitchy R&B progression peppered with low-fi record pops. A hazy memory of a disco-soul summer night, maybe a reminiscence of a sweet first meeting on the dance floor, the song’s laid back tone soothes and savors the mood. Eventually, the edges unravel as the reverie slips away and the present reasserts itself. There’s similar sense of lassitude in “An English House”. The sonic collage intro offers the sole sense of urgency -- a windy night and a stranger comes seeking entry. After that, the song’s stutter-beat electro-pop offers a charming, off-kilter stroll towards some unnamed goal. Whispery swells and light chiming sounds blur the corners of the song, creating an ASMR effect. The fluting solo line and warm vocal fragment, “In this house…”, are calming even if the beat becomes a tad insistent.

While Gold Panda has infused these songs with interesting details, there’s a definite sense of distance between the music and its inspiration. It resonates with the idea of world travel, but from an observer’s perspective. On “Brazil”, the steady syncopation picks up a dripping rainforest rhythm. The pulsing electronic ornamentation changes constantly, like browsing a rich catalog of exotic animals and insects, but it’s not so much a direct experience of South America as it is a view from an insulated window. Elsewhere, “My Father In Hong Kong 1961” uses bells to evoke an Asian feel, but Gold Panda is channeling Mike Oldfield more than Chinese roots. The effect is hypnotic, but disengaged.

That disconnection makes it easy to dismiss Half Of Where You Live as musical wallpaper and it would serve that purpose well enough, whether as an exercise soundtrack or to kill distractions at the office. But Gold Panda’s music is actually designed for meditation, where his evocative palette can clarify thoughts and provide an intriguing perspective. His Zen approach isn’t concerned about the destination of a given piece; it focuses on the greater journey of the whole album. For a listener with receptive ears and mind, it can be the perfect recording to sink into. If that’s not you right now, you can still play it as light background music.

(This review first appeared on Spectrum Culture)

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