Vancouver’s pop/rock (with touches of electronica) quartet Hot Panda prides itself on its ability to blend genres with humour and free spirit. On their third LP, Go Outside, they ensure that each moment is filled with tons of energy and appealing sounds, as well as a refreshing coating of punk attitude. The presentation is more enjoyable than the actual songwriting, but it’s a very fun record nonetheless.
Admittedly, Go Outside tackles more serious issues (namely, “cynicism, depression, and close-mindedness”) than the group’s previous two efforts. Songwriter Chris Connelly describes the record as having a socio-political theme, which includes “with us or against us” mentalities, our failing economy, and being left behind by your people. Fortunately, the band still implements plenty of optimism and light-hearted spirit. With touches of Mew, At the Drive-In, Loud Family, and Aficionado interwoven throughout, Go Outside seems to tackle complex ideas in a naturally accessible way.
Opener “One in the Hand, One in the Chest” feels like a mix of T. Rex and Sonic Youth; Connelly’s rough, prepubescent anarchism is complemented by female vocal accompaniment, distorted guitars, and dirty rhythms. It’s like a better produced take on the Sex Pistols or the New York Dolls. By contrast, “Language” is much more melodic and poppy (due, in large part, to its accordion and horns, as well as its slower tempo). There’s also an abundance of interesting timbres and ideas, recalling the earliest No Doubt material.
“Littered Coins” begins with just an acoustic guitar and Connelly’s singing, but soon the other elements come in. In terms of songwriting, it’s a highlight. Elsewhere, “Maybe Now?” has a bit of a surf pop vibe, and the arpeggiated guitar work, coupled with the chord progressions and intriguing percussion, makes it feel very hopeful. “Holidays” triumphs due to its declarative horns, affective melodies, and waltz rhythm. It’s a reflective piece that would fit perfectly for the concluding moments of a Wes Anderson film.
The dynamics and collaged arrangement of “Winter Song” is fantastic; its fragments fit together perfectly, and there’s a level of delicately delivered emotion that gives it a lot of longevity (so it stays with you for a while). Seeing as Go Outside is all about shifting moods, it makes sense that the title track is an invigorating and playful song; in a way, it’s the warm summer after the cold winter. Bassist Catherine Hiltz once again provides childlike charm with her voice, and she continues the pattern on the hectic, Devo-esque “See You All Around”. Finally, “Boats” sees Connelly almost emulating exactly the raw rebellion of Cedric Bixler-Zavala, and album closer “Negative Thinking Patterns” is a relatively dissonant and dirty slice of punky thrash.
Go Outside is definitely an enthralling and sufficiently unique record. The group tackles not-so-happy topics with endearing energy and sustained focus, and overall, it’s a surprisingly diverse record (more so in terms of tone than actual approach). It’s a nice mixture of elements and styles that any fan of punk or quirky pop will surely enjoy.
// Notes from the Road
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