It’s probably a good job that the folks at Fierce Panda decided to focus on music rather than comedy. The name Licensed To Drill comes, somewhat tenuously, from a joke about this EP being numbered NING 230 (tooth-hurty) in their catalogue. What’s more, Licensed To Drill was the name of a one-off educational edition of Only Fools And Horses that was broadcast in British schools in the mid-1980s.
But when it comes to music, Fierce Panda ain’t no plonkers, having pressed records for Art Brut, Kenickie and Death Cab For Cutie over the last decade and a half. On that basis, this compilation might just be worth a spin.
White Belt Yellow Tag, who open the EP, are a name that many will already be familiar with, having risen from the pooled ashes of Yourcodenameis:milo and The Cooper Temple Clause. Their contribution, ‘Ode’, is a defiant introduction to Licensed To Drill, with plodding bass and marching drums that pound out the rhythm like a boxer. It is a grand composition, that just about carries its bravado through sheer audacity.
In many ways, it is the opposite of ‘Misunderstood’ by Sheffield’s Mabel Love. Here, the guitars are pushed out of the foreground to build up an ambience, leaving the other instruments to provide the melody. They bring to mind Interpol, or Editors in their slower moments, with a track that is darkly humble, if not particularly infectious.
For the easily bored, Ladydoll supply the most boisterous rock song on the EP. They sound a bit like a band Jonah Matranga was probably in at some point, and for that reason their energetic angst isn’t exactly cutting edge. But in fairness, with a chorus that would easily win over the audience at a Taking Back Sunday gig, they’re sure to tick a lot of boxes for a lot of people.
The Megaphonic Thrift drive through ‘Exploding Eyes’ at a similar pace, as delicate melodies clash cleverly with punchy power chords to make for a compilation highlight. Going down a freakier garage rock route, Twin Tigers fail to roar in the same way, with a swagger and a strut that sound empty and hollow.
Sir Yes Sir represent a more experimental side of Fierce Panda’s roster. They merge lethargic vocals with odd honky tonk guitars and sludgy shambolic breaks, pulling together a cluster of interesting ideas without drowning them in abstraction.
Atmospheric synths and meticulously enunciated vocals are the defining characteristics of ‘Photographic Heart’ by France & The Habsburgs. Unfortunately, this attempt at sounding ominous is thwarted by being fairly unimaginative, and ends up far too dull to be menacing.
Bringing Licensed To Drillto a close, Burn Before Reading use ‘Markers’ to re-inject some energy. This is another fast-paced indie-rock track that would sound most at home on a festival stage, but ultimately only does what a whole load of other bands do a lot better.
The same can’t be said of Fierce Panda itself though. Despite one or two blunders, its struck gold enough times on Licensed To Drill to consolidate its position as one of the most reliable UK labels around.
7Robert Cooke's Score