As electronic music continues to fill the market, it’s becoming easier with each new act to separate the wheat from the chaff. A tragically high number of up-and-coming electronic/alternative acts are either forgettable or just plain boring. Thankfully, Panama not only avoids mediocrity, but races forward with memorable energy. Far more than merely passable, the Always EP is just a great piece of alternative music.
Panama boasts a well-rounded, satisfying sound that expertly blends several different ideas. Opening track “Always” throws pounding keys and hand claps during the chorus with a mild synth undercurrent as multiple voices join together for the main hook. It’s the best kind of electronic track; simultaneously exciting and soothing, pressing all of the right buttons in the brain. It’s incredibly catchy and worth the price of admission alone.
No two tracks are the same in the first half of the album. Panama isn’t afraid to be daring with their style. Right after the initial driving anthemic “Always,” “Destroyer” is much more electronic-heavy and relaxing. And while Panama clearly shows off how good they are with the excitement of “Always,” they refuse to settle into that comfort zone and instead make something quite different with each track. Even the haunting vocals of that second track are somewhat different from what comes before.
And of course, the album would be remiss without at least one appearance of electronica’s current staple seasoning, the saxophone solo. “Strange Feeling” utilizes the trendy addition quite well, letting the instrument slip in towards the end of the song and burn away energy to trail off in a distinctly soothing, Dan Bejar-esque way. The lyrics of “How We Feel” bounce along in perfect rhythm to the music. It’s all just so airtight, produced and mixed with meticulous care.
The second half of the album is mostly remix-focused, with no fewer than two additional versions of title track “Always” as well as some other cuts. Remixes can be tricky, either chopping up the original version so badly it’s nearly unrecognizable, or doing so little that the new version barely pays the rent on the album. The remixes on Always mostly do it right. The first “Always” remix (Classixxx) is a great twist that shuns the piano for a more bass-centric, Cut Copy-flavored version that works quite well even if it doesn’t match that anthemic high of the original.
The second “Always” remix (Wave Racer), however, is a nearly-disastrous cut that twists the vocals to Chipmunk levels and uses bass drops and repetitive, hyper-recycled samples. It’s the one misstep in an album that otherwise blows the electronic scene out of the water. The Cosmos Midnight Remix of “Destroyer” is interesting for its strange parallel works to something you might expect to see from a Childish Gambino album—not a criticism by any stretch of the imagination.
While never derivative, there are pieces of Always that feel stylistically similar to other current electronic artists. This is by no means a bad thing, as it gives the album a chameleon-like feel, consistently changing and getting a different feel with each new cut while feeling like the same beast overall. It is by turns soothing and invigorating, a wonderfully dancy album that feels like it works best during a rainy afternoon or a midnight drive.