Derwin Powers, the British-based electronic artist who calls himself Gold Panda, has always found solace in sadness. The death of a close friend inspired him to become a musician; he “thrived” on the loneliness of Tokyo while living there for a year, as he once told The Quietus; and though the songs on his debut Lucky Shiner fizzed with a sort of joyful quality, Powers has admitted he’s suffered from depression.
His down-in-the-dumps demeanor, however, has been a boon for his music. And on his second full-length album, Powers crafts a gorgeous little set of cinematic electronic music which incorporates found bits of sound (“Brazil”‘s sole vocal is a loop of a male speaking — you guessed it — “Brazil”) with body-rocking beats (house and early dubstep are obvious influences) and finely wrought melodies. Powers has says he wants his tunes to have a clear pop structure of verse/chorus/verse and many tracks achieve that: “Flinton” even echoes the hook from Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” at moments.
But Powers’s pop ambitions undercut his ear for texture and ambience and, weirdly enough, the best tracks here are the ones that sort of meander aimlessly like Austrian master Christian Fennesz’s avant-garde works. On “My Father in Hong Kong 1961,” Powers crafts a sepia-toned postcard to his time in the Far East with Asian-style bell tones and melodies, vinyl crackles, tape loops and no discernible rhythm at all. And after four minutes, you’re instantly there with him too.