If there’s one characteristic that makes Gold Panda’s albums distinct, it’s their sense of place. Since 2010’s ‘Lucky Dreamer,’ the British producer has been building vivid pictures of the places he wanders through. His shimmering instrumentals use hip-hop, techno and ambient textures to fill in his word beat by beat, brick by brick. This spatial richness was at the forefront on 2013’s ‘Half of Where We Live,’ where the songs acted as colourful snapshots inspired by the countries he had visited while on the road. The resulting album was a vivid, dance-focused trek around the world that incorporated subtle nods to the music of their locations in a way that felt elegant, colourful and deeply personal.
Three years later, Gold Panda is still on a travelling kick; ‘Good Luck and Do Your Best’ uses the artist’s trips to Japan as its thematic backbone. The project might be his most cohesive and fully realised yet – skittering drums, crisp keys and resonant guitars are fused on nearly every track. While there are no true standout singles as with previous albums, these instrumentals are more than the sum of their parts. The meditative mood the album conjures should not go understated.
The melodies on ‘Good Luck…’ are deceptively simple, such as on the tingling ‘Pink and Green’, where a melancholy guitar loop wraps around keys and wind chimes, growing warmer as the track patiently moves forward. The percussion is nimble without ever becoming cluttered, no element jutting out awkwardly, but only adding to the clear scenery created. The aptly named ‘Metal Bird’ stutters into a sharp, bustling groove, while the delicate vocal samples coo overhead. Despite the busy layers, the album remains consistent in its breezy atmosphere.
The serene quality of the album darkens only twice. ‘Song For a Dead Friend’ is an eerie cut that bears more similarities to the alien beatwork of Squarepusher than it does to the warm tones of an artist likeFour Tet, who Gold Panda is frequently compared to. Even here though, the album retains its humanity, with a squelching synth line that flits up and down in a way that’s more playful than elegiac. The sour and meandering ‘Unthank’ is the only moment where the record missteps. While it may make for a failed experiment, as soon as the celebratory horns of closer ‘Your Good Times Are Just Beginning’ appear, all is forgiven.
While Gold Panda has always had a knack for emulating places in his music, ‘Good Luck’ may be the first time he’s truly taken the listener on a journey. It’s a lovely trip too.
‘Good Luck and Do Your Best’ is out now via City Slang.