In the small hours of the morning, sometime during the early weeks of last year, an online trawl for new music led to the discovery of a track reminiscent of Holonic-era DJ Krush, or Pete Rock at his most instrumentally languid, or maybe it was Bonobo’s ‘Animal Magic’ album? Either way, its distant, rolling piano loop, punctuating guitar notes and driving breakbeat also contained a freshness and level of intrigue that meant an immediate sourcing of its creator’s back catalogue had to be undertaken. The track was ‘Lonely Owl’, and, as it turned out, came from the singular EP release (entitled ‘Before’) a few months earlier from a producer called Gold Panda (real name Derwin Panda).
As introductions to new artists go, this one was an intense love-at-first-sight affair, and ‘Before’ remained on repeat for the next couple of months until the inevitable end of the honeymoon period. As tracks such as ‘Heaps’ and ‘Triangle Cloud’ fell from the playlist, replaced by a fresh batch of chillwave electronica over the summer, the affair was over. However, as September rolled around, a hotly tipped and justifiably hyped album of organic-sounding, melodic electronica honed into view like an old flame that still burned, starting the love affair all over again.
‘Lucky Shiner’, Gold Panda’s devastatingly accomplished full length debut, is a tour de force of modern bass music, as measured in its approach to composition and arrangement as in its desire to move your feet (or at least, your head). The fact that its creator was responsible for a slew of progressively impressive EPs and remix/production credits in the run up to its release, ‘Before’ EP among them, helps explain the self-assured nature of the resulting long-player.
Intimate found sounds and field recordings sit happily alongside the digitally manipulated rhythms – an incorporated use of musique concrete favoured by those directly within Gold Panda’s ancestral and contemporary pool (the likes of Amon Tobin and early Bibio spring to mind). And it’s with these elemental sounds that the producer communicates ‘Lucky Shiner’s relationship with its influences; namely friends, family, place and experience, as opposed to any specific section of his record collection (the album title itself is taken from the name of Panda’s grandmother).
The twin tracks of ‘Before We Talked’ and ‘After We Talked’ were both forged from an old, unwanted Yamaha organ (including a characteristically creative use of the machines crackle-filled sonic qualities as improvised percussion sounds), and are thematically concerned with a recently passed away friend, while the acoustic guitar interlude of ‘Parents’ features the spoken tones of Lucky Shiner herself, as her and the prodigal grandson potter around the garden. The track listing is bookended by two cuts christened with the same single-word personal pronoun name (‘You’ and, err, ‘You’), and even Daisy, the dog Panda was charged with looking after during the making of the album at his aunt’s house in rural Essex, gets in on the action with bonus track ‘Casio Daisy’.
With recent powerhouse releases from moody dubstep titans SBTRKT, Zomby, and Mount Kimbie, now appears to be the perfect time to revisit Lucky Shiner armed with contemporary comparisons to help contextualise its place within the modern electronica pantheon. The most recent of these, Zomby’s ‘Dedication’, is a toned-down and introspective version of the secretive producer’s usual electro-assault on the senses. Its pensive and often melancholic qualities could be down to it being a tribute to his recently-passed father, an area of inspiration also explored on Lucky Shiner. Although ‘Dedication’ explores its themes through bit-crunched synths and cold electro beats as opposed to Lucky Shiner’s deployment of samples and organic instrumentation, its emotional connection to Gold Panda’s debut connects it to this ever-emerging group of releases fusing human sentiment with 1s and 0s production.
Schooled in the ways of the crate-digging hip-hop producers of yesteryear, Gold Panda can be considered among a small and under-celebrated group of producers that are not only aware of the creative possibilities available within a four-to-the-floor beat structure, but are able to utilise it to produce challenging and emotionally-driven music without ever alienating the form, effortlessly and enviably. Even the most club-orientated moments on ‘Lucky Shiner’ display personality and feeling, and in much the same way that Four Tet drew on his residency at London’s Plastic People to infuse his provocative brand of folktronica with more rigid dance music, tracks such as lead single ‘Snow & Taxis’ and the opulent ‘India Lately’ cram far more melodic and harmonic ideas into their pounding bars than 99.9% of “conventionally” written songs.
But perhaps what’s most enduringly impressive about Lucky Shiner is the chameleonic nature of its production. At times Brainfeeder jerk beats (‘You’), at others a bleak, rippling mood reminiscent of the Matmos production work on Bjork’s Vespertine (‘Peaky Caps’). There are strong elements of ISAN’s brand of bubbling downtempo ambience (‘Casio Daisy’, ‘I’m With You But I’m Lonely’), and even euphoric minimal house like a modern day version of The Orb (‘Marriage’). Nicolas Jaar’s experimental ‘Space is Only Noise’, the ambient techno of John Roberts’ outstanding ‘Glass Eights’ and Mount Kimbie’s full length masterpiece ‘Crooks and Lovers’ are all natural cousins, overlapping sonically and sharing creative similarities, but Lucky Shiner stands alone as a yardstick for all of its contemporaries to aim for; a modern day electronica classic.