Elvis Costello sang about a “Black and White World” on his album, Get Happy!! This is nowhere more true than in Perth, Australia as the Panda Band has taken that city’s indie music world by storm. This genre-blending fivesome marks its full-length debut with This Vital Chapter, an album so strange and melodic that it can tend to defy description. Of course, that would make it much easier for me to review, simply saying that there’s nothing to say, but I’m far more inspired than that.
The second track, after the Clap Your Hands like circus barker opener, “High In Your Saddle,” is like a fifties doo-wop song, cloaked in Sgt. Pepper’s uniform, disguised in Wayne Coyne’s beard and sleeping with Sleepy Jackson. That goes for the rest of the album also. “Sleepy Little Deathtoll Town,” one of the songs that gained notoriety in Australia, being about their hometown and appearing on an earlier EP, begins with joyous and playful horns, a jaunty piano and skronky guitars. It’s near impossible not to find yourself smiling while listening to the song. It’s like Isaac Brock on mushrooms, as scary as that sounds.
Their hit single, “Eyelashes,” is another psychedelic freak-out, catchy and infectious, borrowing as much from the Beach Boys as from the Beatles, not to mention more contemporary bands like the Super Furry Animals. “Musical Chairs” is an equally compelling song, definitely seeing the sunnier side of Modest Mouse. I guess they figure that a panda can take out a mouse any day of the week, so why not be happy about it?
“Ghosts Have the Best Time” is another highlight, sunny and toe-tapping. If you combined Queen and ELO and added a touch of the Unicorns, you’d come close to replicating this magical mix. “We’ve Got the Face of the Earth” features Katy Steele on vocals, the lead singer of fellow Perth band, Little Birdy, and the duet is wondrous. In “The Jaguar,” vocalist Damain Crosbie references the ’60s with his opening lines, “Kids, drop your pills for the night and load up on love till you’re feeling alright. Who said you can’t always get what you want?” Take that, stuffed shirts! The band sends their “thank yous” with their final song, “Signing Off (We’re Almost Not Even There) Part 1,” a nice little happy closing to a nice little happy album. And I’m not being sarcastic in the slightest.
This Vital Chapter carries the parenthetical name “We’re Almost Not Even Here.” Maybe this is due to the absence of Pandas down under. Pandas are native to China, with the awfully cute Red Panda (you know, the Firefox logo?) found in Nepal and India as well, but nowadays you can find a band of Pandas in Australia. The Panda Band is the best thing to come out of Perth since Luke Steele and Bon Scott. If the Pandas and Sleepy Jackson are to be interpreted correctly, it’s as if it’s still 1967 in Perth, the Beatles and the Beach Boys are still competing and inspiring each other, and as far as experimentation in music, anything goes. Who says music has to be all serious and deep? Relax, let your mind go, and have some fun with the Panda Band.