Panda Park

The 90 Day Men

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Panda Park Review

by Charles Spano

Panda Park is an undeniably brilliant record that finds an uncompromising, always striving-to-evolve band totally on top of its game. This is what Aladdin Sane might sound like, had he gone into hiding in 1974 only to re-emerge three decades later in a Chicago indie rock outfit. To Everybody may have hinted at the direction the 90 Day Men would take with Panda Park, but it still comes as a shock -- the group has gone from being confounding post-hardcore to defining what could be called post-piano pop. They mash Warm Jets-era Eno, Elton John, Bowie, T. Rex, Wendy Carlos (check the analog vibe on "When Your Luck Runs Out"), ELO, and the entire history of Chicago's experimental rock into a caterwauling, spaced-out collection of catchy insanity. Is this the first hardcore pop album? It's certainly challenging and unforgiving on tracks like the piercing and awkward "Chronological Disorder" and there's a weirdness that suggests something is impending. But there's no slick, Interpol gloom and doom or '80s keyboard new wave -- which would have been the easiest approach. On the contrary Panda Park is uplifting, mesmerizing, glittery, and unapologetically psychedelic while sounding rooted in both '70s prog and skewed latter-day punk rock. The 90 Day Men have landed with an album that acknowledges their forebears while owing them nothing -- and they may be the most relentlessly original band of the year. Panda Park is like Revolver from a group raised on Fugazi -- God help listeners when they release their Sgt. Pepper.

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