Gloriously unpolished and perhaps one of the outright loudest and gnarliest records I've heard all year, 2015's I Saw My Soul Leaving is a sort of greatest hits album released to commemorate the first US tour by Italian garage rocker Panda Kid (a.k.a. Alberto Manfrin). This album combines two new tracks with eight from the artist's back catalog in a “special dirty fuzzy lofi master,” and that description is no joke. Full of overpowering, frequently discordant guitar riffs that attempt to shred a listener's eardrums, I Saw My Soul Leaving is almost disgusting in terms of its overall sound quality. Nevertheless, I'd have to call the record utterly unique in terms of what it's going for and how it goes about doing it, drenching sugary melodies in very nearly nauseating amounts of distortion.
Following the aptly-titled opening instrumental “Panda in Space” which recalls '60s experimental music at its most manic, “Garage on the Beach” finds an '80s synthpop melody and whiny, out of tune vocals emerging from a clutter of chugging guitar and slapping drum machine percussion. Noticeably less intense and frenzied, “Your Candy” harkens back to the world of classic noise pop with its deliberate tempo, groaning vocal, and jangling guitar before “A Long Long Summer” is guided by a more shuffling, clattering rhythm. The tune's incredibly shrill guitar riffage is almost intolerable, but there's a saccharine feel to the piece despite its overwhelming harshness. “Confidences” initially uncorks a cheesy electronic handclap beat then, just as a listener is enjoying this moment of respite, sets its phasers to kill with a relentless and beastly chugging guitar. Goofy vintage sound effects are a playful distraction, but the song's chorus is almost shocking for its clashing mixture of monotone vocal barks and bright, tinging mallet percussion accents.
“Arizona” plays like mangled mid-'60s radio rock: strumming, uptempo guitar is complimented by comparatively restrained “la la la” vocals in what is arguably one of the album's most immediately listenable cuts. The first of two brand new songs, moderately-paced and soupy “We Will Be Palm” revolves around more tuneful vocals - Manfrin almost sounds like Arcade Fire's Win Butler here – while the second new track, “Sun Take Care of Us,” first slams through a thunderous and churning post-punk stanza before disintegrating into a lonely and woozy second half. This is probably one of the most distinctive sections heard on the album, showing that Manfrin is more than just a one-trick pony. Finally, penultimate track “Palm Spring$” creates a grimy island vibe that clears the way for the honking, new-wavey closer “Summetry.”
Much as is the case with The Jesus and Mary Chain, one almost has to listen to Panda Kid with headphones to appreciate the subtleties of this music, but I'm not sure I'd entirely recommend that: each time I gave it a shot, I was forced to tone down the volume to keep tinnitus at bay. As might be suggested then, I Saw My Soul Leaving won't appeal to all (or even many) listeners, but it's a dizzying treat for those who can tolerate music at its most raw and ragged. I got the sense that Alberto Manfrin could craft some tight and catchy garage and dream pop tunes if he wanted, but he's clearly having a blast taking those finely-tuned pop numbers and slathering them with as many wild and wooly effects as possible. Any way one looks at it, there are some truly deranged tones heard on this brain-rattling and delirious record. It's erratic and maniacal yet strangely irresistible.
7.4 / 10
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