(Rogue Tape Records, CD)
Post-rock - or whatever we're supposed to call that dreamily expansive and mostly instrumental genre these days - has lost a good deal of its novelty. Earlier in the decade, it seemed like every musician with a delay pedal and a Tortoise record was taking a stab at the sound. This eventually resulted in a plethora of musically aimless bands with super-artsy album covers. And suddenly it just wasn't cool anymore.
Now that the hipsters have moved on to other concerns, namely hyphy hip-hop and Talking Heads ripoffs, fine bands such as Worcester, Massachusetts-based quartet The Pandas have some room to breathe.
The group's latest disc, Solutions, is a shimmering sonic marvel, stacked with gracious arrangements of remarkable depth. Stylistically, the album sticks pretty close to the post-rock playbook, but as far as vocal-free space jams go, the shit is tight.
It's tempting to lump The Pandas in with Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky, two of the more durable bands in instrumental rock. But the sounds found here are less dark than the aforementioned acts, and they largely avoid the crescendo-crammed architecture so common to this strain of music.
The Pandas excel at balancing crispy, IDM-inspired rhythms with jazz-flecked chords and glacial ambience. Occasionally this leads to repetition, but it also makes a fine soundtrack to a winter's daydream.
Opener "Apertura" features sparse guitar arpeggios and delicate glockenspiel, which share the same patient motif. A glitchy, Bjork-esque beat is introduced partway in; organic drums eventually supplant the electro rhythms.
A chilly distance is kept on "People," a polite-sounding number bedecked with keyboards and an indistinguishable vocal sample. The song doesn't exactly build into much, but the quiescence it conveys is pleasant enough.
The title track is supremely mellow, with wisps of guitar that evoke the feeling of watching clouds from a moving vehicle. The song makes great use of the theremin - the odd electronic instrument used in the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations," as well as countless '50s sci-fi flicks. Here, it sounds sweetly cinematic, like a road movie captured in unfolding, idyllic tones.
"Song About Songs" opens with gentle guitar swells, before being joined by a persistent drumbeat and protracted trumpet lines. The song possesses a great sense of clarity and motion, and it segues nicely into "Point of Beginning," which plays like a spaghetti Western on the moon.
Whenever I hear an album as detailed as Solutions, I find myself wondering how the band pulls it off live. Guess I'll have to check out The Pandas at Club Metronome on Friday, March 16, with The Hero Cycle, The Shapes and Kiss Me Deadly.