Album Review: Hot Panda – Volcano…Bloody Volcano!

Odds are you’ve never heard of Hot Panda before. If you have, you probably know one of the members, live in Edmonton (where they’re from), or you just listen to every band that has ever existed (all the power to you). If you don’t fit the above profile, it’s no real loss. Hot Panda will not change your life. If anything, they’ll merely make you realize that putting out a great album is very difficult.

Case in point, Volcano…Bloody Volcano!. While not bad in any sense of the word, the record just isn’t all that great. To put it bluntly, it’s a mediocre offering from a band that doesn’t deserve to be the next thing in music. Of course, rarely is a band deserving of this honor, so they shouldn’t be offended by this fact, but they also shouldn’t expect buzz. Mediocrity is not the equivalence of worthlessness, it simply means there is nothing amazing about them, and nothing awful about them. Not every little band from Canada can be the next Arcade Fire. That’s just the way it is. Such is the case that Hot Panda is just all right.

Where the band falters is in their lack of variety in sound. On Volcano…Bloody Volcano!, the group has a style that brings together dozens of influences, but in the end, these all come together in the same fashion on every track. The instruments and vocals play the same roles with each subsequent song, in such a way that it really only takes one song’s listen-through to “get” Hot Panda. The bass bumps along, a little synth comes in, then come the monotonous but distressed vocals (think Brandon Flowers meets Tim Kasher), and rhythmic electric guitar strums. Sometimes we’re even graced with those annoying shout-em-out backing vocals. It’s just the exact sort of band dynamic you’d conjure up if given the god-awful task of defining the ambiguous term that is “indie rock.” Song structures vary only ever-so-slightly, and the whole thing kind of meshes together, becoming one drawn out blur.

There’s no mystery to how the songs were constructed either, the ingredients are laid out pretty explicitly, which makes things all the less exciting. Of course, there are areas of highlight, such as the lush echoed background male and female vocals found on tracks like “Whale Headed Girl” and “It’s Not Worth Eight Dollars”, and some nice guitar licks that arrive on “I Tried Very Hard”, “Gold Star Swimmer” (the album’s true gem), and “Sexual Frustration” (another worthy track). But again, there aren’t any surprises and the wow factor is pretty low. Sure, the band has some planned instrumental freak outs, but even those don’t really come as much of a shock. Really, what this album desperately needs is some diversity.

Hot Panda shouldn’t give up. They have potential, and this album is not a total failure.  It’s just that, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t stand out as particularly special.  Volcano…Bloody Volcano! is as good an example as any of a group of songs that cannot be labeled good or bad. Simply put, Hot Panda’s debut could be a whole lot better, and it could be a whole lot worse.

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