Handsome Panda aren’t a “band to watch.” You’re unlikely to read about them on Pitchfork anytime soon. However, if you’re craving some raw, middle-finger garage-rock, start with this London, England two-piece. Handsome Panda’s Matt Funnell and Aymen Saleh have worked out being cantankerous to a science, and their refreshing brand of lo-fi, guitar-and-drum pop-rock is worth checking out.Let me just make one thing perfectly clear – as a general rule-of-thumb, I detest six-or-more-song-length EPs. If you have that much material, save yourself some time and money and just write one or two more songs and put out an album. It seems that extended plays have more or less lost their functionality in most cases. Handsome Panda, on the other hand, have the right idea – their debut EP contains four songs, none of which exceed three and a half minutes. Case and point: there isn’t enough material for listeners to become bored. The appropriately named opening track, “Youth”, is an energetic blend of pop and punk that tastes delightfully of teenage rebellion. Funnell spits the verses of “Money” at blistering speeds, contrasting the melodic wailing of the chorus, over a raunchy groove that will appeal to fans of Incubus. In “Weightless”, Funnell’s affected crooning accentuates this visceral and morose anthem. “The Good Life” is a cathartic, sneering jam for the apathetic, and has my vote for best song.
An advantage of staying under the umbrella of the garage-rock genre is that it’s problematic to criticize an artist without criticizing the genre as a whole. For example, it could be argued that The White Stripes are “poor” musicians because their music is generally quite simple, but as a “lo-fi” garage-rock band, it would defeat the purpose for them to be highly technical. The goal for Handsome Panda also seems to be simplicity – roughness over technicality – and they meet their goal. In fact, as a garage-rock band, Handsome Panda is nearly faultless. Each track is as driving as the next, and Funnell and Saleh do more by themselves than most bands can hope to with five members. However, with the exception of “The Good Life”, the EP never really stands out. As high school informed us all, going the extra mile is the difference between an “A” and an “A+.” The Handsome Panda EP doesn’t really go the extra mile. While each song was enjoyable, nothing really floored me, which is important to many, myself included, in an album. Those who don’t require quite so much depth in their musical tastes will love Handsome Panda’s debut.
Handsome Panda are great at what they do. They harness the classic rock n’ roll swagger to create a cool confidence about their music that is quintessential to garage-rock. Some will love them; some will hate them. It’s a calculated risk. I mean, you could fall into the latter category, and you just spent all that money on their EP… Except it’s free, so no excuses, tightwad.
Download link: http://handsomepanda.bandcamp.com/