Gold Panda - Half of Where You Live
When considered beyond its direct function as the mechanism by which a quantity of music is delivered, the album format has always lent itself to an array of interpretations. On his follow-up to 2010’s Lucky Shiner, Gold Panda structures his music as a compendium of scenic reflections on life and experience, each track a moment or vista, and the merits of such an approach to the format are immediately apparent.
Accommodating the pan-global production aesthetic and diverse explorations undertaken by the Peckham-raised and Berlin-based producer ('Derwin Panda' is all he's prepared to give away), the result is a record more akin to a photo-album, a stream of often incongruous particularities of time and space, all ultimately derived from the same compositional base.
This sense of a shifting focus whilst held within a clear central hub, renders the dominant sensation as one of leaving but also returning, an overarching sonic narrative of ultimately circular movement, epitomised here by the kaleidoscopic album artwork.
Accordingly, Gold Panda explores all manner of sights and sounds: the Oriental bell-chimes of 'Junk City II', the mystique of Arabian plucked strings on ‘We Work Nights’, the indigenous drum syncopations of ‘Flinton’, each in turn both linked and opposed to the atmospheric dial-up tones on ‘Enoshima’. Yet, despite the globe-trotting, there is ultimately a sense of return, and the true thematic centre of the record ultimately unveils itself through penultimate track ‘The Most Liveable City’.
This appears to be the end-goal of all this globe-spanning: finding stability, not necessarily where you were born, raised, or work, but in where you live. The textures that emerge appear to be the clues to the meaning of this hub. Birds sing, before then giving way to the opening snatch of inane therapy (“How are you feeling emotionally today? Are you okay? Are you getting depressed?”), then amidst the fractured beats a dull whine like airborne air-con recurs and a dog barks. These snatches of a life amidst the pervading dull buzz captures that sense of lying in bed, eyes shut and the room slightly spinning after hours or days of constant movement. In this key, the final track is dubbed ‘Reprise’, whose bluesy lovelorn vocal sample is all about the sense of being apart from - and looking to return to - some site of lived-centrality: a city, a lover, a state of mind.
The consequence is that Half of Where You Live is a strangely peaceful, reflective record despite the fixation on shifting locales, and the refusal to be fully experienced whilst sitting still - undoubtedly there is more to be gained here when there is movement, be it dancing or travel. But equally this movement can be following a train of thought, mirroring the particularly nuanced perspective, and very personal, slightly insular experience of the music.
The rub of this is that occasionally - rather than feeling especially encompassing or directly memorable - the sensation the tracks conjure is once-removed from the ‘you had to be there’ story. On reflection, the circularity of expression and experience breeds a sense of bordering on tedium, a kind of failure, which seems all the more pronounced in that when Derwin reaches farthest there is such triumph. First single ‘Brazil’ captures these contradictory impulses perfectly. It stutters and soars in equal measure, the predominant snag being the mind-numbingly repetitive titular refrain, proving near-unstomachable in its four-second recurrences until the track dissolves fully into its gorgeous instrumental. But when it does so, as it does elsewhere on ‘Community’ and ‘The Most Liveable…’ the conquest is glorious.