I’m still not sure if I’m that fond of EPs. My main gripe is usually about six months later when an album comes out and it is predominantly made up of songs from earlier EPs. Sure it can produce good records, such as The Beta Band’s Three EPs, but it is a bit of a shitter for the folk who got the records first time around. I’m tempted to recruit that annoying bald cockney ‘geezer’ from the consumer awareness TV shows and go undercover to sort out these facking rogue traders.
Fife-based Panda Su started to get recognised in 2010 after the release of her first EP Sticks & Bricks, which was produced by Steve Mason from The Beta Band. It was well received, even getting a surprise boost when one of the tracks appeared on Skins. Later in the year she won the much coveted Best Newcomer at the eternally glamorous Jockrock Scottish Music Industry Awards 2010.
As with her first release, the four songs on her second EP I Begin continue to mine the folk-pop seam. A spine of acoustic guitar and Scottish vocals at the forefront, intermittently joined by glockenspiels, inconspicuous percussion and keyboards, fleshed out with the odd electronic atmospheric. As you’d expect for a second bite at the cherry, I Begin feels more surefooted, and it is all the better for it.
Opener ‘Bee Song’ is, at least on the face of it, about being stung by a bee. It doesn’t really capture how I’d react to being stung by a bee, which would consist of a catalogue of expletives before going home in a huff. Panda Su instead decides to wander off through a woozy dreamlike stream of consciousness without even the hint of a mild strop. Maybe we’re in a coma after suffering an allergic reaction, maybe we’re dead like Macaulay Culkin in My Girl. Probably neither, but it is good.
‘Facts and Figures’ is probably the best thing on this, though not by much. It feels more menacing than the other songs here. A slightly less bombastic relative of the Arcade Fire’s ‘My Body Is A Cage’.
I’m never too keen to interpret lyrics. For even if you guess correctly, the songwriter can always just be a nob and tell you that you are wrong. That it is actually an ironic commentary about balls of yarn, or something equally oblique. Though when on ‘Alphabet Song’ she starts literally singing the alphabet, I can’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed. Maybe I’m missing a trick, but it is just reading the alphabet, yeah? Some people can make reading something as dull as the phonebook listenable, and Panda Su does come close to getting away with it. It doesn’t feel wrong, just a bit unimaginative. Also at times, due to the storytelling nature, a lot of the lyrical content is dangerously close to aping Randy Newman’s appearance on Family Guy when he sings everything he sees.
I’m not dismissing them, but this record works for me in spite of the lyrics. It’s not that they are bad. It’s just that the arrangements, the way that the various instruments and vocals intertwine, are much better. It conspires to build an atmosphere, prevalent throughout, that makes you listen. There are peaks and troughs. Not in the Pixies loudQUIETloud dynamic that forces you to pay attention, but more in the way that the moon controls the tides. You don’t really notice it happening, but it secretly has taken hold.
If in the future over 50 per cent of this EP ends up on Panda Su’s debut record, deduct a couple of points from whatever digit is residing at the bottom of this review. No comment on the quality of the songs. Just some bald cockney git told me to say that in my earpiece.
6Andrew Kennedy's Score