Panthers: Things Are Strange

[6 December 2004]

By Liam Colle

Dear Mr. Post-man

Okay, the fixation with the “post-” must stop. It’s a nice sounding prefix and all, but really it amounts to nothing. Ears fasten in apathy and the brain oozes with disaffection each time it rings out like freaking church bells. Post-modern, post-9-11, post-structuralism—and even more numbing—post-rock, post-punk, post-hardcore. Ewwurghhhh…. Whatever happened to lampposts, the post-office, and posteriors? Not to say that the content behind said labels cannot be substantial and constructive, it’s just that this prefix so inevitably detaches. Immediacy is lost and innovation is dismissed within the “post-” paradigms. Shit, can we start owning up to our histories, while at the same time, wrestle some accountability from our creative ability?

That’s a heavy burden to expect some psychedelic punk band signed to Vice Recordings to carry. Although, despite the unrelenting “post-” tag that will drop alongside Panthers, this band has offered up a solid album that is entirely contemporary. Things Are Strange proposes nine songs and fifty minutes of loud, honest, visceral, and sometimes beautiful, rock. The standout tracks, such as “We Are Louder”, “Thanks For the Simulacra”, and “Stroke My Genius”, are rousing and genuinely infectious. The rhythm section unequivocally rules the proceedings, with pounding drums (sometimes featuring two kits) that are never pendulous and bass work that reeks of danger. Maybe this is the album ...Trail of Dead would’ve made if they were studying semiotics at New York University when the towers fell (and if they were getting a lot more ass in the meanwhile).

Despite fantastic production that couches the vocals nicely within the drums, Panthers repeatedly trip into unpalatable histrionics thanks to some uninspired guitar work. Meandering and plodding, the heavy metal fretwork can chime more annoyingly than a ring tone from The Darkness. Bands like Dead Meadow and Comets on Fire certainly do the psych freak-out thing more successfully, but when Panthers do attack, they establish a propulsive urgency that stands alone. The atmospheric wall built on “We Are Louder” is stirring, for example. A free jazz noise collage opens the song and from there it just keeps growing, and it works, regardless of the fact that this dynamic has been done over and over again.

In lyrical content this album rivals virtuosity, as Jayson Green’s wailings resound wonderfully throughout. From the inescapable uncertainties of love and sex to the insufficiencies of Lacanian theory, Panthers stalk and hunt for gritty, intelligent truths. Some of it comes off as completely pretentious and stilted, but for the most part the lyrics offer a charismatic mixture of insight, humour, and emotionality. “Theory is Famous” offers up a gem, “He won’t let me scream on him, I’d say ‘off the pigs!’ But I’m scared of it. But give me a book and I’ll read the shit out of it.” Funnelling political, urban, and intellectual alienation into one menacing tirade, this is one of the more exciting moments on Things Are Strange.

An altogether versatile album, listening to Panthers is as enjoyable during sex as it on your way to work. “Thanks For the Simulacra”, previously released as “Thank Me With Your Hands” on the Let’s Get Serious EP, is especially enchanting. Vocalist Jayson Green finally finds his appropriate tone, as his open heart bleeds sleaze: “Let’s just go back to your place and not talk about it there. I was thinking we should sleep in separate beds, but the heat’s gone to my head. Let’s get tired at the same time tonight.” When at their best, Panthers affect an authentic world-weariness that doesn’t exceed or ignore its jurisdiction.

Rock music is complicit in the “post-” impasse as much as any other area of human endeavour, and as so-called art, maybe its practitioners should submit to a realities check more often. Creating from a vacuum is a sure-fire way to suffocate. It’s not that every song should be written about Darfur or French theorists, but only good can come from perceiving the issues of our humanity with wider, clearer eyes. The Brooklyn rock addicts, Panthers, offer up a nice example of this sort of honest engagement on Things Are Strange. Yeah, this world is tragically fucked, but we still just want to fuck. This is our absurdly contradictory society, and instead of glossing over or soaring above, Panthers wisely decide to revel in it.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/panthers-things/