Review: Marco Panella – Eastern Landscapes

My first spin of this album came on a sleepy evening journey back home, slumped against a coach window and wearily watching car headlights whizz past through the pitch black. I haven’t found a more appropriate listening environment since. It’s a record of beautiful flow, with guitar finger-picking that overlaps in pretty chords that slide graciously across one another, never fluctuating too much in terms of dynamics and never fully resolving either. Eastern Landscapes is the sort of album that sets your consciousness on stand-by, in the best way possible.

It’s an album that doesn’t sit still – the guitar (both softly distorted electric and bright acoustic twang) chooses not to settle into repetitive ‘hooks’ and prefers to dance around in complex arrangements, rarely throwing the same shape twice. And it sounds good, particularly when it stumbles briefly into a gorgeously discordant harmony or a pretty major chord in a seemingly accidental fashion. But there’s no half-arsed noodling going on here. I’m unsure as to whether each note is carefully composed or expertly improvised, but the playing is confident and assured regardless, the needlessly indulgent guitar solo during the second half of “Joey” being a rare exception for me.

My favourite element of the record is Marco’s addictively monotone voice, low enough in the mix to sound as though he’s laying lazily over the intricately weaved blanket of guitars. Anything above the softly spoken mumble present here would make the record uncomfortably bustling and busy, but as it is, Marco’s words drip neatly over the other instruments and provide the perfect compliment.

To say that Eastern Landscapes is ‘pleasant and welcoming’ almost implies that’s it’s devoid of depth. Needless to say it’s not. It’s a charming enough first listen, but tricky to fully comprehend – there’s distinct melodies running all the way through the record, but they’re caught beneath the torrent of activity taking place over the top, requiring the listener to manually unearth them over repeated plays. It’s well worth doing, as each is as beautiful as the last.