3 out of 5
Produced by: June Panic
Label: Secretly Canadian
Too much of a good thing?
The lo-fi, indie auteur scene – using Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard as a template – seems to thrive on the simple but rewarding pleasures of straight to tape ditties, which stretch out to hours of material which somehow wring new life from chord progressions, bridges, and thoughtful lyrics song after song. I realize that’s a generic enough statement to cover all of music, but it’s still a specific breed that produces record a like Glory Hole, a 28-song hour plus disc that stuffs in several mini-epics and several more relentlessly catchy tracks in a rambling, non-stop, punky, poppy squall that Mr. Panic would end up refining – though never really abandoning its off-the-cuff thrust – over the next few releases and years.
Panic doesn’t sound like GBV, though. With his whiny delivery and the pleasingly DIY song construction, Panic’s sound might be closer to Violent Femmes or Ween, while his insular, play-every-instrument-yerself approach and lyrical mash-up of God, sex and death might even lean into the emotional preening of the Saddle Creek crowd. But I never got into Violent Femmes and I don’t like Saddle Creek; while those acts were courting crowds or sweating over how to muss their hair in just the right bed-headed fashion, you get the sense that Panic was running back to his bedroom to record twenty more albums. And for the first 11 or 12 tracks of Glory Hole, this aggressive independence is magical: Tracks suddenly break into harsh howls and riffs when least expected or Panic will whip up another infectiously poppy tune, all held together with a nervous energy and a bundle of interesting lyrical ideas that sing to many of our frustrations and insecurities (although with the focus on relationships and sexual feelings – very much from a masculine perspective, admittedly).
The remainder of the album has the same amount of highlights, but it’s hard to keep the listening energy amped up the entire time, and at some point Glory Hole stops feeling like a cohesive listen and more like a collection of demos. The rating seems unfair in that regard, because each track lands well enough such that I can sing along when passing back through, but there’s an undeniable shift after that first chunk of songs that no longer necessities my earholes’ immersion – like we’ve heard the riffs and ideas and now here’s a whole bunch of variations on that theme – and since that equates to more than half the album, a mid-way ranking seems fair.
I definitely appreciated Glory Hole more when returning to it after getting into Panic’s somewhat more focused later works. I think it’s a little too much however it’s approached, but once inured to the singer-songwriter’s style, it’s impressive to discover how far and wide he can stretch his skills, with Glory Hole offering up an appreciable amount of durable Panic classics.