One should never judge a book by its cover. Its been said so many times as to pass through even cliché or truism and land at that most Austen of things, a truth universally acknowledged.
Of course, it doesn’t really actually hold true for books (would you buy a book with, say, a photograph of Eamonn Holmes on it? Well, maybe you would…) and it most certainly doesn’t hold water when it comes to albums. In this instance, Edmontonians Hot Panda have, on their third full length (arf) release, plumped (arf arf) for a sleeve featuring a fella diving through the air from a springboard into a swimming pool, cock and balls swinging in the air as he goes, a pair of strange gargoyle-like totems observing the action. What will this tell us about the content and will it mislead us as the old saying suggests?
Well, the cover is a bold statement and Hot Panda certainly have a few of those on offer from needle drop to centre – semi-improvised opener ‘One In The Head, One In The Chest’ scrawls psych over buzz-hum guitar as vocalist Chris Connelly ironically spits “Don’t hate the West.. preserving the self-interest of the asshole with the biggest gun”, finally declaring “All hail the West” as the track crumbles and lurches to a ragged close. Another politicised ball of fury comes in the shape of shuddering, twitching tribal rumbler ‘Future Markets’, a spacey, space-out jam that finds Connelly musing “Now who’s leading who?” as the volume spikes and drops, fury subsiding into disgust before reverting to its original form once more.
Representing the sleeve’s strangeness we have the ranging, awkwardly descending lines of ‘Winter Song’, a track that reaches for emotional connection but cuts itself off a little too early, along with the fizzing ‘Boats’ a screaming yelper that wonders to itself where it’s going and never quite makes up its mind though it has a tuneful, sometimes jarring Felice Brothers kind of time along the way.
Standing up for the sleeve’s clear nineties-ness (look it up, right?) are the better tracks of the record. ‘Littered Coins’ takes a Dinosaur Jr strum, tangles it around a Pavement melody and comes up smiling, occasionally atonal but sweet and sad/soft satisfying. ‘Maybe Now’ offers more of the same, this time with a neat syncopated beat and a Go-Betweens lyrical sensibility and melody that proves the most winning moment on the record as a whole.
Sadly, as we may have expected from the cover image, there’s a fair amount of cock on here too. Songs like ‘Holidays’ drag themselves around fairly uselessly and, crime of crimes, blandly; ‘Negative Thinking Patterns’ is a Bond theme dirge without merit; and the likes of the title track are simply too inconsequential with their wielding of Afrobeat tropes and Drums-like flimsiness.
Happily ‘See You All Around’ stands up for the balls as it surges madly from electro witchiness to chanting madness and minor key messiness, the lyrics apparently depicting the repetitive nature of the band’s local scene, but at its best also depicting how awesome Mclusky were.
So if we judged the album by its sleeve we’d have to guess at something interesting with a dash of humour, a dash of boldness but ultimately a lack of overwhelming and consistent quality? Well, probably not the last bit to be fair, we had to actually listen to the album for that.
Anyhow, ludicrously extended metaphors and strained points aside, it’s a decent record that has a few stabs for glory but often mis-steps and finds itself floundering a little. Sometimes that’s just what happens when you dive naked into a pool at night, ya know…