Pangea Living Dummy

[Burger/Lauren/Ol'Factory; 2011]

Styles: punk, garage rock, party band, jokes
Others: Thee Oh Sees, Black Lips, Jay Reatard

The first thing most people will notice when they pick up Living Dummy (or, let’s be honest, glance at the JPEG album cover on their internet browser) is that Pangea have prominently included a representation of a woman with three exposed breasts that appears to have been drawn with ballpoint pen. Juvenile? Crass? Perhaps, but the spirit behind this crudely-rendered representation lies at the heart of the record’s grinning, shouting, guitar-flailing sound.

Pangea’s brand of skuzzy garage punk won’t be alien to anyone who’s been present for the last decade’s cascade of 60s- and 70s-inspired indie bands. From Black Lips and Thee Oh Sees to Ty Segall and The King Khan & BBQ Show, the sound of raw guitar pop mixed with wild punk attitude has become as familiar to internet-age music lovers as shiny white iPod earbuds. So familiar, in fact, that it’s difficult for a garage punk band to surprise us anymore. The genre has proved a fertile ground for immediate and fun pop songs, but as happens with anything that works, it’s becoming increasingly harder for bands to offer anything inventive or original.

Some artists solve this problem by abstracting the genre to near-ambient degrees. Groups like Dirty Beaches and Crystal Stilts wash the classic sounds of The Animals and The Sonics in grainy reverb and tape decay effects. With today’s nearly limitless recording options, these recording methods are conscious choices made by the artist to color their work. Whether it’s an attempt to capture the “authenticity” of sound decay tied to physical degradation or a blissful washout of sound employed to tip ever closer to experimental ambient soundscapes (No Age, for their part, accomplish the same goal by wildly catapulting between the two), the effect is clear: These bands subvert the question of originality by swimming around the sound.

Pangea, on the other hand, subvert the questions by barreling straight through it. Between the album cover and song titles (“Make Me Feel Weird,” “Shitty,” “Night of the Living Dummy”), the band is clearly choosing to ignore this question altogether in favor of simply having a party.

There are no reverb washes or audio decay on Living Dummy, although they’re not shy about dialing up some gain into the vocal mics. Opener “No Feelin’” begins with a simple, overdriven, two-note guitar lick and an extended blistering screech. The tune quickly settles down into catchy rock with an extra-infectious chorus, and this seems to be much of Living Dummy’s strategy: moments of abrasive yelps and guitar spasms quickly alleviated by sugary guitar pop hooks. This sweet-and-sour combination is solidly satisfying; at no time during the runtime of Living Dummy does the band pause for a breather or echo-filled interlude. They seem to by firing on all cylinders at all times, trying to squeeze as many sing-along choruses and call-and-response breakdowns as possible into the recording. They love including little sound baubles too, like the pleasing flamenco flourishes that spice up the otherwise jangly, lovelorn “My Heart” and the square-wave keyboard line that forcibly punctuates the chorus melody on “Summertime.” Pangea also employ the kinds of overpowering harmonizing vocals Wavves made famous on songs like “To the Dregs” and “So Bored.” However, in Pangea’s hands, on songs like “Me and You” and the aforementioned “Summertime,” the effect is more playful than haunting, like a teenager fooling with studio equipment to emulate vintage vampire movies.

As to their songwriting subject matter, Pangea seem more than happy to accept the mantle of “lowbrow.” Many of the words sung on Living Dummy are obscured either by distortion or the rudimentary mix, but the few that are discernible are pretty upfront about their juvenile brashness. On “Make Me Feel Weird,” they write a line that could be at home on a Blink-182 lyric sheet: “Let’s talk about your dad/ What kind of guy is he?/ You say he hates fags/ Well, I think he’d like me.” And Pangea do Dead Kennedys one better by not just being “Too Drunk to Fuck,” but, in their song, “Too Drunk to Cum.”

There are, however, moments where honest emotions peek through the jokey veneer, as on “Night of the Living Dummy.” “We don’t hold hands anymore/ We just give head anymore/ I always wanted to try,” a line that combines naked emotion and adolescent sexuality into a weird kind of charm. With the line “And I know/ This will come back to haunt me in the end,” on “Haunted,” the word “know” is sustained with enough emotion and longing to evoke both Johnnie Ray and Ricky Valli. Sadly, these moments are never fully fleshed out, and the few times the band manages to rise above the tongue-in-cheek squall, they’re not confident enough to stay for long.

Living Dummy is an aggressively fun, rainbow-colored rollercoaster, but the fleeting emotional peaks show that, with a little growth and development, Pangea could soon turn into a truly impressive band. While an artistic breakthrough is frustratingly absent on this record, sometimes half the fun of pop music is listening to a band in the midst of development. I mean, isn’t that what the garage is for, after all?

Links: Pangea - Burger/Lauren/Ol'Factory

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