It’s easy to get caught up in the cult of originality. Especially when considering electronic music, a form which supposedly develops in lockstep with technology, the expectation is for a unique twist and turn from every artist, whether that results from more processing power, an absurd amount of layering, custom developed software, or something as simple as a signature filter or EQ setting. The irony is that a technique which provides freshness at one point in history often serves to date it later on – originality begets obsolescence. Lucky Shiner, Gold Panda’s debut full length, doesn’t rely on any technological gimmicks nor does it attempt to set itself apart from its ancestry. Instead, it relies on melody, attention to detail, a wide palette, and solid structures to come up with one of the most easily enjoyable, beat-driven electronic albums in recent memory.
Although this sounds like so many things from the recent history of laptop techno music (µ-Ziq, Kid606, Four Tet, Daft Punk, Jan Jelinek, and so on) it doesn’t come off as an intellectualized celebration of the past’s greatest moments. It clings together with a timbre and soul of its own, tinged by English melancholy and the screen-refreshing twitchiness of post-modern attention spans. Having spent some time studying Asian cultures, sounds native to these areas turn up frequently, but avoid feeling heavy handed. “Same Dream China” lays a stuttering tabla-esque melody over a smooth bed of stuttering vibraphone, “Vanilla” ingeniously rearranges its cinematic string sample into an Eastern-tinged melody, and “I’m With You But I’m Lonely” juxtaposes Japanese-flavored chiming over an insistent beat that blossoms into a mess of breaks. I even want to be bored by the sitar which drones on and provides accents in the background of “India Lately”, but the martial momentum of the microbeat – and then the sweeping Bollywood strings – make it the most far-reaching trek on the album.
“Parents”, mostly recorded on acoustic guitar, asks the listener to wonder if all the tracks were first written on guitar before being translated into their electronic forms. That would be consistent with the overall melodic strength of the material here, but even so, this music’s form is decidedly descended from different types of dance music. Most of the chords are reduced to repetitions of eighth or sixteenth notes and so serve both as rhythms and hooks. Other chords surge repeatedly to form acid house pulses. While this sort of thing used to be branded intelligent dance music, it feels better to just say that Gold Panda is great at imbuing machinelike repetitions with a human urgency and emotion. He covers an impressive amount of ground on Lucky Shiner, and the variety works in his favor. Perhaps he’s missing a degree of originality, but what these tracks might be lacking in idiosyncratic branding will likely be made up for with a longevity of listenability.