Welcome to Throwback Week 2017! Each year, our writers tackle older albums we have yet to cover on the blog. This year, we’re covering albums released in 2013 or earlier.
reviewed by Michael Thomas
I owe a lot of my current musical taste to hearing Hot Panda’s “Cold Hands/Chapped Lips” in early 2009. I would continually seek out that twisted song that melded twee pop to unbridled chaos. Years later I caught a live Hot Panda set and their aggressiveness reaffirmed my belief that this band is a rare one that can fuse pop and experimentation in a way that makes perfect sense. The sounds shouldn’t go together, but they do. The main members of Hot Panda have relaunched as Bad Pop, and “bad pop” is a good description of their music. It’s not “bad” as in awful or not good; it’s taking the idea of pop and turning it onto its head and then bodyslamming it.
The aforementioned “Cold Hands/Chapped Lips” is a great way to introduce someone to this band. Chris Connelly sings of seeing a girl he used to know, who’s now “grown up” with an important job. The chorus of “yeah yeah yeah yeah” and “no no no no” will strike the listener as catchy, but after the second verse, the song changes into a fast-paced swirl of screeching guitars and people yelling. It switches back to calmness for parts of the song and then goes back into chaos.
Many of the songs on this album feature this unpredictable structure, with some songs starting much more strongly than others. “Bullhorn Romance,” for instance, features an insidious repeating melody on keys, as Connelly subtly destroys the main character of the song, telling him or her “You’ve got no one to love.” There’s “Whale Headed Girl,” which also starts out dark but features an inventive part in the middle where there’s suddenly a burst of sound made to resemble whale songs.
For the entirety of Volcano… Bloody Volcano just imagine that nothing Connelly says is true. By a different artist, “Chinatown Bus” could be romantic, with its gentle guitar and organs. But you can tell he doesn’t mean any of it, like his call to “Let’s move to New York and live out of a van.” In the stellar “Afraid of the Weather,” Connelly slowly berates someone who sounds like a hardcore survivalist, and you can hear Connelly’s exasperation as he repeats the verse a second time. Sometimes he can be pretty straightforwardly angry, as in “Sweet Sweet Sweet” when he says “On the back road of some shit-ass town/Is that shitty life I’ve read about.”
And let’s not forget the very tight bass from Keith Olsen, who spices up the highly sarcastic, cowbell-filled “It’s Worth Eight Dollars” and adds some major darkness to “Sexual Frustration.” Drummer Maghan Campbell is especially noticeable when Campbell’s drums add a marching-band-esque quality to some songs, which reminds me of the very fun pop of the Wet Secrets.
It’s hard to believe this album is eight years old already, but Hot Panda have not grown old and given up. There’s still a lot of fire in them, as Bad Pop’s new song “Linda Ronstadt” can attest to. Viva la panda!
Top Tracks: “Cold Hands/Chapped Lips”; “Afraid of the Weather”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)