Having broken out on a certain best-of list in 2009, Gold Panda is here now in 2010 with Lucky Shiner. At times, his music can be very moving or even, to some, essential. It’s mid-tempo and pithy; yet deeply emotional, like the year’s first snow. Sadly, one might accurately call Lucky Shiner nothing more than The Field’s From Here We Go Sublime dressed in second hand jeans and an Urban Outfitters jacket. What is this stuff, this hipster-pop electronic music? In such a niche — the realm of holding a certain quotable sound — the goal is nostalgia (if it isn’t obscurity). How can one make music that channels adolescence? Ask M83 or Bibio. See Digital Ash-era Bright Eyes, Crystal Castles. Fuck Buttons.
Lucky Shiner has all the facets of something good. It breathes on its downbeats, sings rickety sampler loops, and, most enjoyably, it takes its time. Of the fourteen songs on the album, few– even those under three minutes — drop us directly into a moment. “Greek Style” works through an over-compressed bistro beat before skittering out of rhythmic focus. “After We Talked” experiments with the same manipulated vinyl sound, using warm Nintendo square waves and a middle section of buffer-overridden synth-pulp. “Parents” is, surprise, a strummed guitar sequence.
And except for the street vendor clatter in “You,” there isn’t much on Lucky Shiner that can’t be found elsewhere. That’s a cut, but it’s true. At some point there was a realization — no doubt aided by the success of Four Tet — that led to a stack of records, a sampler, and maybe a copy of Ableton Live into the hands of many a young electronic music producer. The trouble is that there’s no feeling of history in any of this music. It seems only meant to be heartfelt. Through the cloudy vinyl static sequences, all in the bridges of these songs — where acres of stuttering pads end up back at the beat, at the start, rather than toward any denouement, the listener — is not given clear transport to anywhere but faux-weepyville.
“Snow & Taxis” has the repeated start of a hundred old rave-ups and at the end of the opening bars, when you’re waiting to feel an explosion of, well, feeling, there comes these reversed string phrases, something strangely similar in both progression and effect to Orbital’s “Beached.” It’s promising, you’ll think. Snares dance on and the Field-ish vocals being, Vowels trade space with rhythm, build, and fade. “Before We Talked” begins, this bubbled-up Sesame Street IDM piece. Somewhere in the middle of all this, a snowlike crackle descends onto the track. “Marriage” moves through a similar progression. A half-hearted kick drum feels half-hearted to the sound a warbling kyoto. It’s all a lot like a car commercial.
Sadly, no four-wheel drive could protect against the thick syrup of this much saccharine hip.