Her Space Holiday XOXO, Panda And The New Kid Revival

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Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: depressive indie-pop
Others: Eels, Graham Coxon, Beck, Money Mark

Marc Bianchi is not one to sit on his sound. As such, he has seen fit to retool his Her Space Holiday project again, this time quite drastically compared to his recent Let's Get Quiet EPs. On XOXO, Panda And The New Kid Revival, the synthetic beats and symphonic samples have been replaced with a straight indie rock aesthetic: the drums are live, guitars have never been more present, and added unusuals -- shakers, banjo, mandolin, glockenspiel -- form the base over which Bianchi spins a semi-disjointed concept narrative about childhood discovery.

Things start off strong. Opener "New Kid Revival" features a steady marching band beat, tambourine, and a Sonic Youth-like intro that falls to the rhythm. The lyrics speak of walking your own path and cranking your tunes if anyone tries to tell you different. With breathy backing vocals and canned strings in check, it's a sickly sweet way to start this album, a perfect tone-setter. "The Year In Review" is even more hopeful, as Bianchi compels you to sing out your joy over a Beach Boys-meets-Pavement instrumental.

Bianchi has a clear layer of resigned melancholy that cuts through his voice, no matter how full of wonder his lyrics are; that's just the way it is. His albums have exploited this attribute to great effect in the past, but the arrangements on XOXO feel a bit off partly because of it, displacing his voice into a bright light that it wasn't born into. "The Telescope," for example, balances electric piano, xylophone, kazoo, and brushed drums onto a tremendously cutesy, whimsical, Sesame Street kinda vibe. It'd work just fine if Bianchi's vocals weren't forced to the front of the line, nearly drowning out the instruments while placing undue attention on his voice.

As a whole, XOXO has no serious flaws. Bianchi's words are still smart, and it's great that he'd want to push himself and try something different. That's what makes him an artist, in the best sense of the word. I just don't think this direction is working — not as well as it should be, anyway. Props are due for not recycling the same album over and over again -- something he could probably do for awhile before anyone would call him on it -- but, unfortunately, the new approach results in Bianchi's most banal album yet.

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