Listening to Panty Lion’s first full-length release, So Dang Rad feels a little like being trapped inside an air balloon—there are lots of wispy noises, groan, grunts and screeches, that, while so hard to focus on, are still somehow soothing.
It’s hard to put a finger on just what gives this album its calming effect. It’s often static, repetitive, and oh-so-melancholy often to the point of utter distraction, but there’s something very inviting in the off-kilter ramblings of Ashod Simonian and Ariana Murray.
With little more than a nylon string guitar, electric guitar and keyboard, the Californian duo (both former members of the alternapop outfit, Earlimart) manage to take simplicity to a new level with their stripped back instrumentation, never straying, though, from the ultra-bizarre when it comes to their stories about love, loss, romance, and dreams of something more.
“Devon made a change for the better / When she moved to New York / She wrote me these words / In her last letter / I love you, but I love Jesus more”, Simonian sings on the gloriously downbeat “Devon Made a Change for the Better”, in a song indicative of the whirligig mind of the band’s principal writer. This subtle kind of tragic-comedy finds its way into much of the So Dang Rad collection, often leaving the listener so utterly sad for Simonian and his rough luck. His lyrics reveal an almost painful sensitivity and it’s hard—really hard—not to want to seek this guy out and give him a much-needed hug.
Until, that is, something else in his horribly sad lyrics reveals itself. Maybe, just maybe, Simonian is taking the piss, as sometimes, his shyness is almost too hellishly tragic to be true. On “Dedication”, for example, Simonian opts to send a love song dedication to his lover when it is “too late to call [her] house”. This way, he figures, if she’s listening, she’ll know he’s awake too and that he’s thinking of her. In the slowest, shiest, lowliest voice he can muster, Simonian continues: “I hope you like ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ / ‘Cause that’s the song I picked / It doesn’t mean anything / It’s just the first song that popped into my head”.
Just as weirdly affecting are “Herndon & 99”, a story of a nighttime interlude with a lover by a riverside, the bluesy and fragile “Sway” in which Simonian is asked to join a band but fears his voice “sucks”, and the tiny folk explosion “Up Where the Burblirds Fly” which is just a gorgeous, haunting piece of music surrounding mostly nonsensical lyrics. And there’s also the odd “Blatz from the Pabst” with its futuristic beeps and bleeps, creepy background chatter and a right-on-the-money (for a tragic loser who’s lost his lover, something we’ve all been at some point, right?) Denny’s reference.
Taking the piss or not, Simonian’s love stories are super-sweet and genuinely touching—you’ll either laugh your ass off at the silliness of it all, or want to cry into your beernuts.
The only real problem with Simonian’s tendency towards the ultra-slow is that his songs sometimes get bogged down in their own sluggish pace. You may very well want to give the man a hug to take away his blues, but after hearing his sob story of an album a few times, it might turn into a slap to pull him out his dreary, rainy day hole. Or, of course, tell him to let his band mate in on a few more of the lead vocals as her upbeat, Lisa Loeb-like squeakiness is far too often hidden.
For the most part though, Panty Lions dingle-dangle their way through 11 cool, summer songs. When listening, make sure to keep the tissue box stocked, the wine mighty cold, and the Prozac handy.