Down In the Hole is Texas Pandaa's third album after their 2006 debut One Gleam After the Shadow and demonstrates a band who are wonderfully progressive in their availability and interaction with fans but also refining their music in an increasingly crowded genre. What that genre is depends on one's definition of the slow, poised and melodious tracks that Texas Pandaa produce with such care: shoegaze, post-rock, down tempo, ambient, romance-pop and indie. All could describe the mesmeric harmonies Asako and Mikiko produce backed dreamily by respective guitar and bass as well as Kaz on a supplemental guitar and Nadehiko on drums. Down In the Hole comes off the back of Days, retaining and refining everything that make the group more than just another self-indulgent ambient rock offering and shows a development of exactly what makes them special.
It's music that gets out of the way, never demanding to be listened but rewarding those who do. It lets one go about their business, but still be caught in the warmth and quiet happiness the music promotes. People, the third track on the album whimsically rises and falls in an expansive six minutes with gratifying pauses in between verses letting the otherwise lackadaisical backing instruments to breath. It's a structure that the fifth track, Frogs, takes to heart except with a more sultry set of lyrics; starting from silence it undulates until the end which is almost lost to white noise. Unfortunately this is something the previous track, Blue Drapes submits to, blending together their signature haunting guitars, gradually creating a cacophony that, in context is beautifully constructed, but doesn't obviate the fact it is mostly noise.
Other tracks are bewitchingly serene, even the short Trace of the Slightest Sense goes above simple padding - something their previous albums slyly included - with a keyboard chime and the always alluring vocals taking prominence. As with the songs themselves, the album grows to a high with Gone and Just In Time which are buoyant and upbeat, while the last two tracks When It Came to the End and The Town are the come down, dream-like and meandering after the preceding momentum. Both types are handled with supreme confidence, the careful orchestration of both acoustic and electric guitars and accompanying instruments composes a sound that is frighteningly easy to get lost within.
Personal preference will define which part of the album is most played, whether the slightly too twee opening, the strong melody and vocal blend from the four core tracks, the rhythmic and positive high or the thoughtful and serene finale. Regardless of the pigeon hole you wish to push Texas Pandaa into, there is no doubt of their talent in a musical style that, in the past decade, has become increasingly crowded with groups such as Spangle Call Lilli Line, toe, audio safari and Matroyshka. All of them exhibit sparks of brilliance, but Texas Pandaa prove here they can carve out their own sound, helped immensely by a flawless production and Asako's tranquil and varied voice.
If any criticism can be brought to bear, it would be the lack of truly stand out tracks in comparison to previous albums; Suddenly and Frogs are both rich and potent but don't quite measure up to And What Flows and Sway from Days, however by comparison Down In the Hole is a more coherent whole. It demands repeated listens, at its best when left as ambient and unintrusive, it isn't until several times through that individual songs begin to form: their tempo and pattern teased out of the amorphous cloud. It is an accompaniment to life, whatever that may be and as rewarding as individual tracks are, it is in aggregate that the album excels.
Rare is it that a foreign artist can seem so accessible, with Texas Pandaa's strong online offering including MySpace, Facebook and Twitter coupled with their forward thinking sales strategy on iTunes as well as local and international vendors, there is an intimate fan relationship that stretches beyond their music. As an addition to Texas Pandaa's offering there could scarcely have been better than Down In the Hole, despite its Disney-esque font and questionable title track it is a stunning album that continues the musical experience that One Gleam After the Shadow debuted and Days strengthened. Long may they make music that is as satisfying and affecting as this.