CD Review of This Vital Chapter by The Panda Band

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This Vital Chapter
starstarstarstarno star Label: Filter U.S. Recordings
Released: 2006
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It’s easy to see how the Panda Band chose their name; their music is as cute and cuddly as those furry bears from China. And just like those bears, their music’s undeniable charm and outright adorableness never gets old. You’re just as likely to get sick of these guys are you are likely to hear someone at the zoo say “God, look at that cute panda, that’s so annoying!” Combining the spaced-out music of the Flaming Lips and the sing-a-long sound of the Polyphonic Spree with lyrics that are far more terrestrial than either, The Panda Band’s take on indie-pop and psychedelic music on their debut album This Vital Chapter is unique and surprising, especially when you take into consideration that they are from Australia, a country traditionally known for more aggressive alternative music (Midnight Oil, Jet) or all-out metal (AC/DC, Wolfmother).

These guys obviously love the Flaming Lips, which is fine, but things start out a little too Flaming Lips-inspired with a short spacey intro followed by “High in Your Saddle.” Things pick up quickly, however, with “Sleepy Little Deathtoll Town,” a crazy tribute to the band’s hometown of Perth. Most of the song seems dedicated to the less-positive sides of the town: “We got Good Book and preachers gone bad / Got drunks in the park with their brown paper bags.” It’s definitely an affectionate salute to a town that, good or bad, they love no matter what.

Musically, the Panda Band keeps things just a little off-kilter, relying on samples, various electronic doo-dads and occasional horn sections to spice things up. But they don’t take it too far, and the musical craziness never descends into full-on psychedelic freakouts. About as far out as they get is on “Ghosts Have the Best Time” which has what sounds like a Theremin solo near the end. It’s kind of silly, but how many Theremin solos do you get to hear nowadays? Relish the ones you find!

One of the downsides to most psychedelic music is that the lyrics don’t make a damn bit of sense to anyone that isn’t heavily altered by various chemicals. Fortunately the Panda Band keeps things a little more down to earth even when they are discussing the heavens, like they do on the touching “Eyelashes.” In this moving lament to God, lead singer Damian Crosbie begs God to stop crying or he’ll “lose all your eyelashes.” The song isn’t as silly as its hook suggests though; accompanying that disposable little non sequitur are some pretty deep thoughts on religion, like “Jesus I’m like you an only son / Only I’m not coming back when I’m done” and “Jesus out of three they say you’re the one / That’s a lonely number.” That gets an award for the most profound reference to a Harry Nilsson song ever.

The Panda Band doesn’t like to keep things too serious, though. Positive vibes soon take the forefront with songs like “Lovely Shoulders,” a song that fetishizes one of the few unclaimed body parts left in popular music. The tender tale of a woman who falls in love with a man because he’s “got some lovely shoulders and she likes that in a man,” it is hands down the strangest case of physical attraction in song form since They Might Be Giants’ “Bangs,” an ode to the hair that hands down off his girl’s forehead.

There is so much great music coming out of Australia right now it’s unbelievable (Wolfmother, the Grates, Jet…well, Jet’s first album at least), and the Panda Band show that the well of musical talent Down Under is far from drying out anytime soon.

~James B. Eldred