Combining young talents from California, Denmark, Bristol and London, newcomers Moon Panda embrace a line-up as diverse as their influences, with breakthrough track ‘Rabbit‘ blending breathy indie-pop vocals, snappy Allan Harrington guitar and enveloping shoegaze wash.
The band lay claim to a bewildering array of influences, including early 20th century avant-garde classical provocateur, Charles Ives, famous for his dissonant, abrasive harmonies and overwhelming textures. I’m initially skeptical of finding traces of this quirky composer in this 3:50 parcel, but sure enough, the final development of the song is a Kevin Shields style barrage of white noise, broken harmony and spine-tingling excitement, which is more than enough to make me stop and consider if Ives is, in fact, the father of shoegaze (note the comparison to the end section of his classic work ‘Central Park in the Dark’)!
The song itself is based on a simple, cyclical bass progression, familiar to anyone who loved Katy B & Benga’s classic ‘Katy on a Mission,’ but with the dubstep shuffle drums replaced by a solid, propulsive lo-fi rock groove. Above this foundation floats vocalist Maddy Myers’ dreamy contemplations on obsessive love and animal instinct, intertwined with the staccato guitar ornamentation of classy and reserved guitarist, Gustav Moltke. The vocals and guitar combine polyphonically, dancing melodic counterpoints to one another, constantly giving the listener a new line to follow and allowing successive layers of complexity to be built on a simple foundation, with Moltke taking particular care not to interfere with the rhythm section’s space.
The simple sequences of the verse and bridge are interrupted by a lush, and initially almost contemplative break that recurs in different incarnations throughout the song, finally returning in full glory as the dynamic focal point of the song. It’s reminiscent of the final section of the Radiohead classic ‘All I Need,’ or the latest Slowdive album. It’s this section of the song that really induces the goosebumps, applying delayed gratification to deliver a more satisfying punch. I’d recommend turning off all the lights in your house, lying on your back on the floor and blasting it on full volume surround sound to get the full effect (Disclaimer: Bitter Sweet Symphonies will not be held responsible for any potential police calls resulting from doing this).
The only area where the track falls a little short for me is in the vocals. Myers is a talented vocalist, but I feel that a little more personality could have been injected into the performance, especially given the roughness and edge that the final instrumental section brings to the song. It’s almost as if the vocals are a little too far back, and we can’t hear the cracking emotion and humanity that really bring the lyrics and meaning of the song front and centre. In particular, it’s difficult to make out the lyrics in later sections of the song as they tend to blend into sequences of vowel sounds – this is likely due to the heavy reverb that helps create the vocal texture.
‘Rabbit’ works best then as a vibe rather than a story – the sound of a new band finding its sonic territory and exploring its capabilities. Moon Panda haven’t yet finished the picture with a compelling and powerful lead vocal performance, but the talent is clearly all there, and I expect great things from them.