Review: Marco Panella – In the Age of Batteries

Panella’s Eastern Landscapes has been receiving regular spins here at ATTN since its release back in late 2010. His style is an unexplainably addictive one: part meticulous composition, part lazy flows of visceral, fingerpicked guitar improvisation. Drums stumble into audibility and then slump out again, as if unable to gather the momentum necessary to keep the rhythm thumping forward, while guitars overlap and clash in a mixture of complimentary and dissonant interchanges, occasionally embarking on loose slides up and down the fretboard. Panella’s drowsy vocal is magnificently judged for the occasion; muttered into the guitar rather than over it, never deviating outside the pitch range that occurs in casual conversation.

The most notable progression made via In the Age of Batteries is that Panella sounds considerably less weary than on its predecessor; if Eastern Landscapes is the bleary, half-awake murmurings of 6am, this new album is the mental clarity and rest-induced reinvigoration of midday. Panella’s voice is the chief instigator of this change in state, dancing playfully into higher regions than before, without abandoning the fleeting falters in pitch perception that made his performance so absorbing on Eastern Landscapes. Lyrical anecdotes are told with greater energy and attention to detail, as Panella swoops through narratives with a bluesy drunken enthusiasm.

The drums follow suit, etching in a sturdier rhythmic base under each of the album’s seven tracks; broken cymbal bursts open and abruptly chokes, splashing erratically behind the album’s simple gallops of bass and snare. The stuttering cycle of percussive collapse that drags “Swannanoah Tunnel” into motion is the album’s best beat by a stretch, and it’s a shame that more of the album’s rhythms don’t deviate from a more regulated bass-snare alternation.

Nonetheless, there is plenty to enjoy here: “Levi” switches between from the whimsical improvisation and nostalgic tales of its verse to the two-chord interchange of its chorus, slipping in and out of daydreams that see its melodic structures dismantle into distortion squawks and nonchalant spills of clean guitar. Meanwhile, things take a decidedly more moody turn for “Hide! Hide! Hide!”, in which minor-key guitars swell and recede in dynamic symmetry to Panella’s suspenseful lyrical tale. Just as with Eastern Landscapes, there are intricacies defining each of these pieces that emerge gradually from within the improvisatory guitar tangle, and while initial listens breeze by as one track stumbles endearingly into the next, further acquaintance sees the distinctive textural characteristics of each song start to clamber out of Panella’s web of sound.