Four years after the release of the fabulous Northern Automatic Music, Panda Riot is back on the scene with their newly released Infinity Maps. This long-awaited third album by the Chicago-based band was well worth the wait with 18 tracks of delicious dreampop for your listening pleasure. Brian Cook, Rebecca Scott, José Alejandro Rodríguez, and Cory Osborne return with catchy riffs, gorgeous melodies, and an album that surpasses their debut. Spinning a deceptive tale of sugary innocence, there is an undergirding bite to Panda Riot’s bright poppy veneer. The dreamy quality of this entire album helps the listener just soak in its ethereal nature and much of that dreaminess is due to Scott’s beloved vocal qualities.
“Aphelion”, the first single off Infinity Maps and the grand opener, instantly convinces the listener that they are in for an epic album from start to finish. Roaring into the speakers with drony guitars that instantly give way to strumming, fuzzy guitar and Scott’s inviting vocals, the track moves in and out of gorgeous vocal melodies that soar and dip over warbling guitar. The bridge is also so lovely and the hook in it just sticks in your head in all the right ways. It’s a simply “oooo” vocal that is repeated in other places on the album. “Helios (June 20th)” begins with effervescent feedback and then moves into a medium tempo, swirling guitar laden dreampop tour de force. “Helios” is dreamy and should be a single at some point.
“Latitudes” is one of the brief interludes on the album that plays with the more electronic side of the band. It is a spacy and drone laden affair that lasts a brief 1:25. Given how beautiful it is, I wish it were much longer. “Ghosting” follows with bright synths that almost instantly transform into a full-fledged dream-poppy, hooky track. When the fuzz is stripped away, the vocals come to the fore and Scott spins a beautifully sung set of lines over, well, ghostly guitar sounds. The otherworldliness of it all is evocative. “Chimera” is another brief piece but has the essence of a full song. Backward vocals sit over bright instrumentation for this one. The band is clearly laying out a sonic soundscape that evokes otherworldliness and doing it with great aplomb.
“Double Dream” has this great bass line that punctuates the more driving moments in the track. One thing that Panda Riot as a band does wonderfully is utilize sparse moments that allow Scott’s vocals to really carry over quiet instrumentation, whether it’s drones, synths, or effect-laden guitars. The drum and bass work are exceptional here, as they move in and out of the composition to create great contrast. “Arrows”, the second single (with a video you can watch below), has a Pia Fraus flavor mixed in with beefier guitars and high-end, twee vocals in the verse sections. The vocals in the chorus move up front in the mix and sit over twinkling guitar, shiny percussion, and perfectly placed bass. The change-ups in the song are just lovely as well, surprising and deftly executed. “Parachute” is another brief piece. This one is piano-centric with syncopated drums and sampled vocals from Scott.
“Night Animation” gets the body moving with an infection groove and a deep, abiding bass-line. The backward synth tones create a swirling controlled chaos held together by the percussion and vocals. “Parallels” also uses that reverse sort of instrumentation sound along with perfectly timed vocal phrasings. It’s another short interlude, as the band shows they can deftly punctuate the album with these brilliant tiny bits of aural pleasure. “Infinity Maps”, the titular track, is another one of those short moments, playing off that dreamy sort of feel that is laced throughout the album and prominent in “Aphelion” with the “ooo” moments. This leads in “Niagra”, the shortest piece on the album, clocking in at 33 second. It is layered synths that rise into the speakers and then are quieted.
“New Colors” is the longest song on the album. It takes the dreamier pieces of the album and mixes them with syncopated percussion and floating guitars. It encapsulates a lot of the various elements found elsewhere on the album into one, more simply constructed song. “Aurora Shift” really moves away tonally from what has come before. The bass work is more prominent and creates a more driving sense. Synths and guitars shimmer, creating an ethereal base for the track. This brief piece leads into another short one called “Glass Cathedrals” which, again, I wish were much longer. I think Panda Riot needs to put out an ambient album because these ambient moments are just lush and deeply gorgeous but all too brief.
“Gold Lines” has that classic, addictive Panda Riot feel with patient, slow pacing and breathy vocals. The guitars glisten in time with the drums in between moments of creating dense walls of sound. “Otherside” plays with a melody that’s reminiscent of early girl groups. The melodic choices recall those early pop gems that sit alongside organ and glistening guitars. It’s a beautifully written last proper song on the album. “Magic Numbers”, however, completes the 18-track album simply with the “ooo” section from “Aphelion”, creating a ring-like composition. It not only beckons the listener to hear a finishing touch, tying the whole album together, but it also is an invitation to star the journey once again.
The wait for a new Panda Riot album is now over and it was well worth the wait. Infinity Maps is an 18-track dreampop wonder and should be missed by no one. Moving from beautifully constructed pop to ethereal, almost stunningly chaotic moments, Panda Riot delivers on all levels. Grab a copy of the CD or the digital copy at their bandcamp.