Foto Ming Unn
Foto Ming Unn

It might well be the case that a rolling stone gathers no moss, but it’s often the case that a rolling snowball results in an avalanche!

Norwegian band Panda Panda currently has so many snowballs rolling down the slopes of Galdhøpiggen (not just the highest mountain in Norway but in all of Northern Europe) that the combined effect has been an avalanche of press attention and a barrage of enthusiastic reviews.  If they keep firing out releases at this pace, they’ll be so snowed under with wordy positivity, that they won’t be able to move out through doors of their off-piste cabins.

In less than a month, the Pandas (as I affectionately call them), have dropped two singles, one video and an EP. Meanwhile, back at the Nordic ranch, they are currently to be found skating around Norway with their Riot Factory stable-mates, Snøskred and Dråpe, the latter of whom they’ll be joining at the Hulen venue in ‘sunny’ Bergen on 22nd April, dets here.

Having previously featured Panda*2 on this site – check out the interview feature here – it makes sense to continue the tradition and dip into their latest release, ‘Millions‘ EP.  A four-track affair, it comprises the two already released singles, ‘New Friends‘ and ‘Halcyon Years‘, alongside two new songs, ‘Why Are You Still Here‘ and ‘Fuels‘.  Recorded in Greener Studios, Trondheim, the EP benefits from the midas touch of fellow Norwegian, Karl Klaseie’s mixing and production skills.

Panda Panda Live at Trondheim Calling (FB)
Panda Panda Live at Trondheim Calling (FB)

Time to talk music!

Up until now, EP lead track, ‘New Friends‘ was probably the Pandas’ most identifiable song, and by default, the sound by which they had become recognised .  Alternating between indie rock and ballad, this passionate yet tender track, peaks and troughs as many times as the relationships at it’s thematic core.  A melting pot of vibrant guitar jams and a low-key, delicately nuanced duet, the musical maturity of this track blew me away the first time I heard it, and still does.  In addition, there is something altogether quite haunting about the central instrumental line running through ‘New Friends‘, that no matter how many times I listen to it, the depth of its poignancy always catches me, especially at the tail-end of the outro.   Check out the home-made visual for ‘New Friends‘ here.

In contrast to its predecessor, follow on single, ‘Halcyon Years‘, has a rockier, more experimental thrust.  Edgy and urgent, the track boasts a frantic criss-cross of Wildhagen riffs and fuel-injected Sponås drumming, yet somehow in the midst of this punchy, propulsive thrang, we find a playful’n’poppy vocal duet, that sweetens the ferocity of its instrumental accompaniment.

One thing that comes across quite clearly in Panda Panda’s music, is not just their willingness to embrace diversity and change, but also their ability to have a lot of fun while doing so.  You’ll catch my drift from this live edit of ‘Halcyon Years‘ – Voila!

Turning our attention to the two previously unreleased tracks, it’s time to share some exclusive insider info which we recently managed to wheedle out of the band.  Speaking about the creative background to ‘Why Are You Still Here?, the Pandas explain:

“‘Why are you still here’ was at first intended for Håkon’s super secret electronica project. The first demo was full of gritty lo-fi beats, an out of tune piano and lots of random noise. Last summer we started playing it at a rehearsal and it immediately felt like a Panda Panda song. We wrote some new lyrics, and rearranged the song structure. We also got noise guru Øyvind Brantsegg, to track some noisy «Marimba Lumina» in the studio.”    

Well Håkon, your super secret electronica project, isn’t really so super secret any more is it??  Oops!

I mentioned earlier that Panda Panda will be playing support to Dråpe in Bergen this weekend, and interestingly enough, one of the first things that struck me when I heard this track was how similar in structure and playing style it was to the latter’s own music, right down to the tight intensity of the lead guitar sequences not to mention the three tons of reverb.  

Another track, another catwalk on which Panda Panda can parade the diversity and borderless creativity of their musical wares. Again, as with most of their compositions, this track alternates between strident and stripped – fizzing with frenergy one minute, and practically in a state of stasis the next.  The extent of Wildhagen’s guitar playing prowess is further exemplified on this track, as is the comparative ease with which the R/S of Jonathan Fimland Kleven (bass) & Oddbjørn Sponås (drums) sync with each other.  

The only word I can use to describe the vocal on this song is stunning.  The purity of Ragnhild’s lark-trilled vocals sends shivers down my spine: it is an unfiltered vocal, whose clarity is of a quality only Norway can produce.  This is the type of crystal clear vocal that so much is expounded upon by the international press. 

You can hear ‘Why Are You Still Here?’ on the Spotify playlist below.

Millions EP

The final track on the EP is called, ‘Fuels’.  Giving us some more exclusive background, the band divulge:-

“The chorus of ‘Fuels’ was actually a part of the first song we made together. It was a really loud song, with a chorus that we loved but a verse that we hated. After some nail biting rehearsals, trying to make it work, we decided to pick the tune apart and make the chorus into an entirely new song.”

Evocative, tender, with vocals as delicate as raindrops falling on the first petals of Spring, this is quite a beautiful song that, with its pared-back, organic production, exposes the depth of the bands adept and intuitive musicianship.  Sparkling Omnichord chords that twinkle like stars, float over a night sky of of bass driven melodies, building to a delicious cloudburst of hazy instrumental gorgeousness of such exquisite tenderness as to induce an hypnotic trance.

You can watch the live visual for ‘Fuels’ here.  It was shot outdoors on a Trondheim roof, which, I’m led to believe, has seen more than it’s fair share of mini-festivals!!  Secret…shhh.

It is worth pointing out that on listening to the ‘Millions‘ EP, it becomes apparent that the crux on which the Panda Panda wheel turns, is the provident pairing of Ragnhild Fangel Jamtveit and Håkon Brunborg Kjenstad. Their perfect symbiosis is the central element from, and around which, all else springs and flows.  The combination of their dawn and dusk vocals, both complements and evokes the lyrical content in perfect harmony with its instrumental backdrop, to such a successful degree as is rarely witnessed in modern day duets.

All things considered, Panda Panda has released an EP of a technically high standard and exceptional musical quality.  Its highly complex arrangements are, on the surface, so glossed over by production of such polish and panache, that one can easily be fooled into missing the intricate web of elements that lie hidden within its dense sonic undergrowth.  I tried to find fault with this EP, and yeah, maybe at times the sound is a little off balance, but only intermittently, and by a fraction, and we none of us would be human if we were perfect.

This is an astonishing debut compilation, made all the more remarkable by the fact that this band only got together a little over a year ago.  As I have said before, Panda Panda has a musical maturity beyond its years and by producing such an eclectically styled, lyrically astute and instrumentally challenging concoction as this at the first attempt, it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility that when their full length arrives, it will be, if not perfect, as phenomenally close to it as this far-sighted group of unique and unbelievably talented musicians can get.   9.5/10

Panda Panda is : Ragnhild Fangel Jamtveit (vox/synth), Håkon Brunborg Kjenstad (vox/guitar), Herman Wildhagen (vox/guitar), Jonathan Fimland Kleven (bass) & Oddbjørn Sponås (drums)

Follow Panda Panda on Facebook, Spotify, Instagram and Twitter.

Millions‘ EP is available now via Bandcamp and all digital channels, details here:-

Spotify: http://bit.ly/millionsEP_Spotify  

Tidal: http://bit.ly/millionsEP_Tidal  

Itunes: http://bit.ly/millionsEP_iTunes

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