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! 



Coming on the heels of September’s My Friends Never Die EP and its subsequent remixes, Seattle duo ODESZA (Harrison Mills aka Catacombkid and Clayton Knight aka BeachesBeaches) have curated NO.SLEEP Mix.01, the first in what is to be a series of mix tapes. The group has a penchant for sun-drenched harmony and music that feels less like melodic-based music than it does a three-dimensional immersive environment, a surround-sound experience of lush bass hums and trilling melodies that shimmer like wind chimes over a beat. Those familiar with ODESZA’s work won’t be surprised to hear that NO SLEEP, released November 20th, delivers an array of songs featuring warm vocal harmonies and re-assuringly upbeat bass lines.

Tracks wind together and morph into each other. The group maintains a more or less even tempo throughout this album–danceable,  but not frantic, with ample space given for each beat to expand to its full reverberation–and strike a balance between catchiness and intimacy. KAASI & TÂCHES’S onomatopoetic “Heartbeats” features broken vocals and a pulse of beat that you can feel almost physically (and would feel literally physically, if you were hearing the track performed live). Catchy, often R&B-based vocal hooks mark the movement from track to track, punctuating a low-key bottom line groove common to nearly every song. Voices are commonly left undoctored, their organic warmth accentuated by a surreal, heavily re-mixed backdrop. This is especially effective on Laura Mvula’s “She (Eagles For Hands Remix),” a quietly powerful number with heavy soul influences.

The tracks “Not Giving In” by Rudimental and “Two Dots” by Lusine, two songs so complementary that, after having heard the mix tape, it would be difficult to talk about them separately, stood out on this album. Two experiments in simplicity–individual expressions, but integral to one another. A single act of setting a melody in motion and watching it cause a chain reaction, making harmonies with itself and generating a momentum that carries one song into another.

The juxtaposition between raw and artificial–the evocation of a single motif, coming from two different angles and several different artists, comprised the theme of this mixtape. Aided by the collection’s pondering aesthetics, NO.SLEEP explores the tensions within the songs to their fullest extent.

Listen to ODESZA’S “My Friends Never Die (Little People Remix),” their contribution to the NO.SLEEP mix, via Soundcloud:

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