One thing Hot Panda’s sophomore album, How Come I’m Dead?, does not lack is exuberance. The Canadian foursome misleadingly open their latest with some heavy organ and off-key chanting on “Membership Fees (Intro)”, but once that track comes to a close, Hot Panda go great guns until they reach the ethereal outro. More impressively, Hot Panda naturally flow in and out of all styles of high-intensity rock without overreaching. “Evil Nature” moves from blasts of noisy shredding to blissful pop without skipping a beat. “Pools” is a giddy shot of swaggering bravado. “Mindlessnesslessness” is spastic electro-pop in the vein of Brainiac. This is rock music with an abundance of attitude to match the plentiful hooks, the sort of thing we used to expect from guitar-driven bands as a requisite.
Of course, Hot Panda are not, nor do they claim to be, reinventing the wheel. There’s very little about How Come I’m Dead? that brims with ingenuity, but this is one field where enthusiasm counts for a lot. Combine that with the band’s instrumental dexterity and their knack for stylistic diversity, and the consistently winning results should come as no surprise to anyone. They push foul-mouthed, demented blues (“Fuck Shit Up/Hell Hey Hex”) in one breath and move on to wiry post-punk blaspheming (“Start Making Sense”) in the next, and get away with it on the sheer strength of their will and fervor.
There are moments on How Come I’m Dead? that are a bit out of place. The segue from the midtempo glide of “Poor Little Ambulance” to “Clever Fox” seems forced, an attempt at thematic resonance on an album that needs no such pretensions. Hot Panda can stretch, as the beautiful country shuffle of “Shoot Your Horse” more than attests, but stone-faced seriousness doesn’t suit them.
What does suit them is twitchy yet nimble song craft sold with equal parts churlish sarcasm and confident bluster, and How Come I’m Dead? offers up plenty of it. A crass attitude can often be seen as a shortcut to rock ‘n roll legitimacy, but Hot Panda’s disposition comes across as genuine, and they’ve got the hooks to match their style. For a band that lacks, at least for the moment, an altogether original sound, Hot Panda’s approach is still refreshing. And from the sound of it, they’re only getting started.