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WE REVIEW THE NEW EP FROM THE NIGHT PASSENGER AND THE PANDA – PERSONA NON GRATA

The wildly prolific The Night Passenger and the Panda – recording alias of Helder van der Rock – is an unconventional prospect. Seldom unaccompanied by a soft toy panda onstage, the multi-instrumentalist and film scorer gambols between intense electronica and ambient landscapes – often with a psychedelic twist.  

Rarely has this been more apparent than with newest EP Persona Non Grata. First clue is the cover art. It’s not dissimilar to the dilated pupil seen on posters advertising Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. That film chronicled the additions of four drug users. So it’s no surprise that the music on Persona Non Grata is this tripped out.

Opener ‘Hello’ spends most of the time eerily saying exactly that, just like the doctor asking Roger Waters if there’s anyone at home on ‘Comfortably Numb’. But where that doctor suffices to ask once, ‘Hello’ is peppered nauseously with watery calls of ‘can you hear me?’ It’s an odd opening statement. Thematically it drags and sonically is grates.

‘They Call Her Vic’ is an improvement. A deep and whirring bass pattern drifts in the background while flutes and synths rotate the lead. Oddly, their roles are largely tuneless. It is playful at first, but eight minutes of this technique overstays its welcome.

The more refined ‘Smooth ‘n’ Blue’ is resolute. Yet the burying of percussion and a fun and loose bass pattern underneath an irksome lead synth is frustrating. Still, it continues the trend of this EP. The entire experience is an upwards trajectory.

Fourth track ‘Saturday Afternoon’ is a standout. The track smoothly transitions into a more propulsive rhythm section and the fuller instrumentation blends sweetly and euphorically. Despite being one of the longer tracks, its multiple phases ensure its consistently engaging.

Closing track ‘Perhaps Tomorrow’ is the strangest to comprehend. Everything is at odds. No two instruments appear to be wholly synchronised. It is boldly creative but ultimately this intentional incongruence is a frustrating way for the EP to conclude.

Persona Non Grata is a deceptively ambitious EP. Half-an-hour long, it’s not far from an album’s worth of material. And with this quantity of material, The Night Passenger and the Panda does create some musical highlights. But the inconsistency of the project is undeniable.

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