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Hot Panda: How Come I'm Dead

CD Review

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A name like Hot Panda is guaranteed to attract attention. The question then becomes what will be done with it. And in the case of Hot Panda, the answer is: apparently not much.

Sounding like a rehash of Washington's K Records scene in its heyday, the 13 tracks on Hot Panda's How Come I'm Dead (Mint Records) are 15 years too late to make effective use of the name.

The whole album feels like an attempt to make a recording in a studio sound like one from a garage, with overt attempts to make guitars sound cheap. Vocals alternate between a bored sounding sneer and faux-insane howl. Trumpets, accordions and keyboards are peppered throughout but feel more like studio add-ins than orchestrated sections of experimentation. Even chaotic noisy riffs in the style of Sonic Youth or The Pixies are delivered as measured repeating phrases, undermining the intent of chaos.

A lolling evil-country track called "Shoot Your Horse" starts out well, with a good Nick Cave vibe, but it ramps up the vocal corniness at the chorus. Track No. 3, "Pools," feels like a Modest Mouse B-side left unreleased because the crunch of the guitars and the cheery tone of the keyboards feel like they're from two different songs that don't go together. Track No. 7, a ballad sung to an ambulance, starts out interesting but runs out of steam quickly and devolves into a fairly boring mid-tempo rock song. It's not surprising. On reflection, the concept smacks of forced quirkiness, the kind that rarely endures or endears. The album's standout track is "Masculinity," with a swung beat and a watery sounding keyboard riff, but it's still hard to get past the vocals.

Overall Hot Panda effectively apes the hybrid of art-punk/garage-rock but struggles to establish the credibility that was the sound's foundation.