Music

The Panic Division: Versus

Winston Kung

Panic! at the Disco meets Kid A Radiohead? Strange as that sounds, the Panic Division's debut breathes fresh air into a genre that desperately needs it.


The Panic Division

Versus

Label: The Militia Group
US Release Date: 2005-11-01
UK Release Date: Available as import
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

According to their own press package, the Panic Division was a long shot to ever even exist; the only reason they're here is by "overcoming the daunting reality that bands in the San Antonio scene just don't survive." But the fact is, they're here, and judging from the press and popular buzz they've been receiving, they're here to stay. Hopefully, their success paves the way for the San Antonio scene. If their debut release is any indication, there's something about the Texan sun that helps stimulate the creative mind.

At first glance, there's little to distinguish the Panic Division. It's true, they seem like little more than your typical emo, post-hardcore band -- you know, the kind where the songs are composed with spiraling riffs and screaming first, melody and lyrics an afterthought, and there doesn't seem to be any semblance of verse or chorus in the chaos. If that was all they were, Versus would be a pointless exercise in a beyond-tired genre.

Happily, there is more, as the electronic textures and keyboards are woven deeply but firmly into the music. Like I said, maybe it's the stark beauty of the Texas landscape acting as inspiration, but by incorporating such influences into their sound, the Panic Division are able to elevate their music from random, slightly-tuneful yelling to atmospheric soundscapes. There are times in the album when they sound more like U2 circa The Unforgettable Fire than the band they are bound to be confused with, Panic! at the Disco. Particularly notable are the use of drum machines and warm feedback in "Little Child" to create a strikingly creative sound that wouldn't feel out of place in a hip-hop producer's collection; the blazing riffs, electronically layered in "Automatic Synthetic", which sound like a pretty good representation of an emo machine gun; and "Delta", a song that deserves a paragraph all by itself.

Of course, they haven't been able to completely revolutionize the genre. For one thing, lyrics and melodies are still an afterthought. The words are all generalities, and can barely be heard over the wall of sound -- no particular loss there, anyway. The boldest lyrical approach is on "Songs of a Dead Poet", which attempts to channel Dylan. And even then the only interesting part is how well the words "Songs of a dead poet!" form an anthemic chorus.

Melodically, the album is more of a mixed bag. The talent they have for atmosphere doesn't always carry over to hooks; "Goodbyes" and "DWI" are catchy stuff, but aside from that, there's not much to keep you humming. This turns out to be a problem for those tracks that lack both the electronic dimension and the hooks. Songs like "Paradise" or "Versus" aren't bad, but they're hopelessly mediocre and forgettable.

All these petty complaints melt away with the first listen of "Delta", though. Like a sunset on the shore, the song washes over you more than it hits, drenched in hues of Stereophonics-esque wah-wah guitar sound and uplifted by angelic harmonies. "Talk to me / tell me I'm just fine" raises its level from an otherwise ordinary lyric to almost something of a mantra, a promise to transport anyone under its spell away. The rest of the album is above average; "Delta" is amazing. And that balances out to make Versus a pretty damn good deal.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image