Casual Strangers - Pink Panther

by Rich Morris Rating:9 Release Date:2016-01-26

Having released an excellent debut album back in 2014 that meandered merrily from alt-country to blues-rock to space-rock, taking in 80s synth-funk and straight-ahead punk-pop on the way, Austin’s Casual Strangers appear to have honed their sound in a more cohesive direction for album number two. Pink Panther is a collection of instrumentals which lean towards the cosmic, a tendency which becomes more pronounced as the album progresses.

Despite their trippy names, the opening brace of tracks, ‘Holocene Dream’ and ‘Cosmic Spaghetti’, are actually two of the less out-there numbers here. The former is churning, burning post-rock streaked with lovely, echo-heavy guitar, while the latter is a slow, contemplative piece with lyrical guitar which wouldn’t have been out of place of Pink Floyd’s The Endless River.

The following ‘Kangarang’ picks up the pace with some wig-out backwards guitar over aggressive, pounding drums. Synths swirl as the album’s overarching space-rock motif begins to make itself felt, and before long the track has dissolved into soupy ambience.

As the album continues, the influence of various Krautrock bands becomes more apparent. ‘Brinca! Brinca!’ recalls Harmonia and Cluster with squelching, witty synths, while one of the standout tracks, the drifting ‘Cosmic Jokers’, makes its inspiration plain in its title. Elsewhere, the gorgeous ‘Turing Test’ combines the bleeps of Sputnik-era pioneering electronic sound with John Carpenter-style uneasy synth-work.

As Pink Panther becomes more cosmic and esoteric, so the material gets stronger and the band’s virtuosity and creative energy comes through. Apparently, these tracks were constructed via improvisation, with band members adding their contributions using unusual equipment.

The last four tracks are all outstanding. The title track winningly combines a cheesy beat with icy, squalling synth and some spine-tinglingly good blues-flecked guitar. ‘Lost Coast’ sources early Brian Eno for a mournful, gentle waltz as effects-laden guitar spirals off into infinity.

Penultimate number ‘Future Passed’ is tense and moody, its noir sheen recalling Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack. This segues nicely into ‘Little Lids’, 10-plus minutes of experimental ambience on which the pitch shifts endlessly like quicksand, like old reel-to-reel tape gradually unspooling into obsolescence.

It’s incredibly brave for a band still establishing themselves to make a statement such as this on only their second album. The fact that Casual Strangers have pulled it off effortlessly, creating something which stands on its own as more than the sum of its influences, is testament to what a fantastic bunch of musicians they are. Whatever they do next will probably sound completely different again, and I can’t wait to hear whatever that is. 

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