Despite consisting mostly of bullshit posturing (I don’t mean that as an insult), Vice has done pretty well for itself. After establishing itself as the hipster magazine of choice, the brand name struck out on its own, landing high-priced clothing stores and a burgeoning record label. Being the American home of the Streets is nothing to scoff at; the Stills aren’t too shabby; and let’s face it, you like Chromeo even if you don’t. But the Vice empire has made a misstep with Panthers, an early-’90s retro band that has arrived at least five years too early. The cocaine Vice readers enjoy will certainly help the four seven-minute songs on Things Are Strange, but the fifty-minute runtime should make Vice hope their target audience doesn’t lose their rush before the end, ’cause then the jig is up.
Yeah, that’s right, four seven-minute songs. Nine songs total, fifty minutes long. It’s a plodding journey, especially for someone like me who thinks rock songs should be a minute fifty, tops. But even the jam-band believers aren’t going to buy into “We Are Louder,” where the band does, in fact, get louder (in a predictable, cliche kind of way) or “If You Were Young Once, Rage,” where they are young, but they don’t do much raging.
The shorter songs are better. Opener “Legally Tender” is an intelligent rocker, and it’s got a great swing to it. “Thank Me with Your Hands” was on last year’s Let’s Get Serious EP, and it’s not surprising that it appears again. It’s driven by a great guitar riff and the strongest melodies Panthers has come up with and is by far the album’s best.
The bands attempting to be referenced here are obvious: Sonic Youth, King Crimson, the Jesus Lizard. But Panthers mostly sounds like Pearl Jam or, worse, Alice in Chains. There is a melodramatic sheen to everything, and the dual drum kits hurt more than they help. Three of Panthers’ members come from the post-hardcore band Orchid, and it’s no surprise that this music could really use some decent screaming. By the time “Weird Birds” comes around to close the album with a four-minute build to a foggy fizzle of an explosion, it doesn’t really matter. Art rock has come, and art rock has gone, but the world remains the same.