Gold Panda‘s The Work exudes happiness. The music is upbeat, there’s a giant sun on the cover, and early purchasers were able to bundle the CD version with a “Happy Toast” t-shirt. And yet, this happiness was hard-earned; the title is an expression of the work it took to arrive at this juncture.
Six years have passed since the last Gold Panda album, a period during which the artist turned 40, played gigs while drunk, struggled with depression, had a daughter and subsequently reevaluated his life. While playing this album, it’s hard to imagine that the turnaround began when the artist looked out of a 24-story building in Japan, saw the netting installed to prevent people from jumping, and thought, “I can still jump.” The remnants can be gleaned in four of the track titles: “The Want,” “I’ve Felt Better (Than I Do Now),” “Plastic Future” and “I Spiral,” although it’s hard to discern melancholy in the music. “The Want” yields a gorgeous Asian subtext, while “I’ve Felt Better” becomes an all-out club monster in the (non-album) Daniel Avery remix, a far cry from the animated pills seen on the cover and in the video. And “I Spiral” doesn’t sound like a downward spiral, but an upward one, graced with crackle, glitched voice and broken beats.
In contrast, the titles “The Dream” and “New Days” imply progress and hope. Our suspicion: the process of writing was itself therapeutic, and the songs became happier as they reached fruition. “The Dream”s languid beats and stutter-steps are pleasantly reminiscent of Meitei. “New Days” has a sweet breakdown and relaxed vibe. One of three early singles, “The Dream” has the best replay value, though “The Corner” may draw more attention due to its vocal hook and skateboard video.
If not for the liner notes, one would never be able to guess what the artist had been through, and might assume that such ebullience came easy. The backstory makes the music a metaphor for an achievable dream. The hard truth: nailing this emotional landing will mean putting in the work. The encouraging follow-up: put in the work, and happiness may come. (Richard Allen)