This review comes nearly five months after the official release of Texas Pandaa’s third album, and as much as I want to blame some outside force for preventing the writing of this piece…like, how I didn’t see this album on sale anywhere except Tower Records in Akihabara…I can’t. Whereas some groups warrant quickly written critiques in order to capitalize on spin-cycle fast hype, Texas Pandaa just makes boringly great music that gets better with time. Down In The Hole rarely deviates from the path previous albums Days and One Gleam After The Shadow traveled leisurely down. This isn’t an album I was particularly excited to buy (despite, thanks to the bands decision to thank every single fan of them on Facebook, my name being printed in the accompanying booklet) but one I certainly expected to be great. Hole isn’t a “grower” in the sense that it can be a difficult listen at first…it’s as smooth as skim milk even on go number one…but rather an album that grows in greatness given more time.
Hole finds the band playing to their strengths as they did on their previous releases to great, albeit not hype grabbing, results. Texas Pandaa makes dreamy music that could easily be confused for “shoegaze” though their slow, guitar-centric sound sits somewhere between Galaxie 500 and Low. Guitars drone into mind-grabbing swirls, but Texas Pandaa avoid simple repetition in favor of jumping from intimate to enormous at a second’s notice. Hole standouts like “Suddenly” and “People” both open sparsely before going widescreen mid-track, transitioning from simple backing noise to an enormous swell of noise. Considering the most common complaint with this type of music is that it’s “boring”…see this review…the songs on Hole rise well above simple background noise.
Texas Pandaa’s best technique, though, is the use of dual vocalists. Lead singers Asako and Mikiko approach vocals like twin dancers, at first twirling around one another oh-so cautiously before joining together for breathtaking results. Swaths of loneliness envelop “Suddenly” until the secondary singing creeps in and adds a a touch of sweetness and then, come the chorus, catharsis. The sparse trudge of “Frogs,” meanwhile, becomes more mournful when the voices come together. Blessed with incredibly great singing ability…check the “season changed” section from “Just In Time”…the pair singers of the group give Hole real energy, real soul.
Save for the pop-up-book feel of the title track…the closest the band comes to a departure, as they nearly write a straight-ahead indie pop song blessed with those voices…the tracks on Hole transform mundane moments from daily life into instances of startling importance. Like Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto’s work, Texas Pandaa transform small moments into life-altering ones, the band using the lyric sheet and that ability to go from intimate to galactic sonically. Most of Hole focuses on moments of realization, often of love ending – see “Suddenly” (“He left so suddenly/It was too hard to leave this heaven” the song starts before the protagonist realizes “I wind up suddenly/alone to find myself in this vacant”) or especially the upbeat-music-downer-lyrics of “Gone” (“I’m staring at empty cans/left on the table/thinking about what we talked last night/such damned things” before the bluntly piercing “now you’re gone/I’m so alone”).
It’s not all heartbreaking – the woozy “Blue Drapes” starts off setting a surreal scene (“Blue drapes were around the room/the old man was so tall/Little Jefferey was there too”) before catching the narrator finding joy (“I started dancing with him/”because I wanted to be happy”). Yet for the most part, Hole is full of sadness, but not of the “woe is me” variety. It’s of the far more devastating I-know-it’s-over-now moments, less a depressed Tumblr update and more of a specific snapshot of incoming-sorrow. Those moments take time to fully hit, and Texas Pandaa know oh-so-well how to make them stronger with time.