EP REVIEW: Panama “Always”

Jarrah McCleary, the classically trained pianist and experimental synth pop artist behind Sydney-based Panama, may be Australian on paper, but the title track opener to Panama’s sophomore EP Always tells a different story: he’s clearly got L.A. in his soul. Singalong-worthy and summery, “Always” starts the release off with piano-heavy pop that doesn’t overthink itself. That’s not a bad thing–the music perfectly evokes blissful hot summer car rides and uncomplicated friendships. Over the course of just three tracks (plus bonus “Strange Feeling,” on the version released on AudioFemme’s side of the pond!)–and corresponding remixes–though, Always moves inward, with the more introspective “How We Feel” and downright dark “Destroyer.” I’ve never been to Australia, but by the EP’s end, Always seems more reminiscent of the sparse but beautiful bush country where McCleary grew up.

“When I write I think about the long road ahead,” McCleary told Vice in an interview in late 2012. You can hear the nomadic leanings in his music, too: it’s not the lightness of “Always” that’s endemic to Panama’s music. McCleary’s songwriting style reflects the process of travel, and of a full absorption of the environment he finds wherever he goes. That approach makes for meticulous music–McCleary’s as much an observer as he is a musician. The attention to detail that goes into this album lends itself to shorter releases, too, which is why it makes sense that Panama has yet to release a full-length LP.

Like debut It’s Not Over, Always gears towards an electrically colorful synth pop, but on this release McCleary assumes a new assuredness over his music’s texture and subtlety. To that end, I could have done without the remixes–I would have preferred more original tracks on the back half of this thing. Whereas the remixes make up a recalibrating of an already complex balance of instrumentation and evocation, I would have rather seen McCleary take his travels further, and have more revelations like the external-to-internal move that happens in the short space between the blissfulness of “Always” and the lonesomeness of “Destroyer.”

Check out “Always,” off the new EP, below!