Gold Panda, ‘Half Of Where You Live’ – Album Review
For better or worse, Gold Panda has always been defined by his predecessors. His 2010 Ghostly debut, 'Lucky Shiner,' was an excursion in basement, patchwork house music, techno and downtempo, drawing from electronic heavyweights like Four Tet, Pantha Du Prince, Flying Lotus and the Field. But Gold Panda cut through the noise because there was an obvious beating heart and busy mind at the center of his work.
Sampling is the U.K. producer’s main mode of expression, and there was an obvious aged, lived-in quality to 'Lucky Shiner'’s sonic pallet. It felt like Gold Panda (like any good samplist, really) was drawing connections between past and present, across cultures and genres. It didn’t hurt that the melodies and songwriting were immediate and gorgeous as well.
But there’s still that question of identity. Does Gold Panda really have his own sound?
'Half Of Where You Live' is the producer’s first full-length since 'Lucky Shiner,' and it’s an obvious step forward in terms of technical prowess. Gold Panda has cleaned up his sound and doubled down on textural complexity. The songwriting even offers more surprise, momentum and danceability. But that dusty sheen that helped define 'Lucky Shiner' is gone. Obviously, this isn’t a dealbreaker. Gold Panda has to evolve. It’s only a matter of how.
'Half Of Where You Live' plies itself on more traditional dance music tropes, and despite the producer’s quick-witted sampling, the record sounds even more akin to dudes like Four Tet, Bonobo and the Field, with its woody, organic programming and glimmering, syncopated bell-tone samples. But to hold that completely against the record would be a disservice. There’s still a lot to like about the album, and there are moments that stand out more than others.
Every track on 'Half Of Where You Live' is carefully constructed and immaculately layered. 'Brazil' opens with a flurry of snares; some squashed, spectral samples; and the titular vocal line before a jerky kick slides in. The track builds in with a swirl of colorful loops, not quite cohering until a thick bass synth drops into place. 'We Work Nights' bounces along some stuttering string and guitar samples before locking into a steady 4/4 while some lazy keys drift in and out of focus. The track starts to really blow up when some clenched world music textures and strings start to flood in.
'Half Of Where You Live'’s most memorable cuts arrive at the end. 'The Most Livable City' is a fractured, marble-smooth take on drum ‘n’ bass, with its fizzling, thready synths and dewdrop bell tones. And closer 'Reprise' is barely more than a tapping hi-hat and a teary organ, but it’s chopped-up vocal sample is one of the most beautiful things on the whole record.
'Half Of Where You Live' is rich and easy to like. But Gold Panda still exists in a nebulous middle ground between great producer and artist without a clear voice. Other producers like Shlohmo and Lapalux have figured out how to make a similar rustic aesthetic their own, while Gold Panda still struggles a bit to transcend those who came before.