If you’ve read anything about Gold Panda‘s third album Good Luck and Do Your Best, it’s that it was never intended to be an album. Two years ago he went on holiday to Japan with photographer Laura Lewis with the intention of making some field recordings and taking some pictures to turn into a documentary. The spark of inspiration came from a wonky translation of the Japanese phrase “ganbatte, kudasai”, which roughly became the album’s title. It’s appropriately fortunate that the record comes across in much the same vein as his debut, the similarly named Lucky Shiner, not least because that record was much stronger than 2013’s Half of Where You Live.
Where his last record was colder and more dance-focussed, Good Luck… deals in woozy electronica, all hazy samples and nostalgia-inducing melodies. It starts with the twitchy ‘Metal Bird’ that pulls off the same trick that ‘Marriage’ from his debut did, albeit with a sparser palette. Stripped of most of the warm pads of that record, it’s more characterised by the stuttering ambient noise he weaves so expertly into most of the tracks here. It’s a technique that powers the album, barely there notes forming the percussive backdrops for those delicious samples to melt all over.
The missteps come when he tries to raise the tempo. ‘Chiba Nights’‘ bassline aims for funky but somehow ends up plodding, and ‘Song For A Dead Friend’ presents an irritating grunting vocal sample over what would otherwise be an interesting, skittering slice of Autechre-style glitch. There’s still some success to be had from the experiments on offer here though; on ‘I Am True Punk’ you can hear him building the track from samples of acoustic guitar and double bass in a deceptively simple way that it seems to be going nowhere for the first minute and a half. Then those background found sounds and fuzzy synths delicately wrap themselves around the recurring acoustic phrases like tendrils until they’ve been repeated so many times they’re barely recognisable. The records finest moments come when he lets himself go with the blissed-out likes of ‘In My Car’, which could be a lost Avalanches track and ‘Your Good Times Are Just Beginning’ which closes the record with a build up to big piano chords and some lovely, and altogether unexpected, jazzy trumpet.
The Japanese influence isn’t hugely obvious, other than some vaguely “eastern” sounding strings across the record. It’s probably more felt in the way the record seems custom made for listening to in those summer evenings when the light goes that beautiful shade of gold and no doubt Gold Panda’s photographer travelling companion is in her element. Good Luck and Do Your Best is not so much a step back to the sound and feel of his debut as a consolidation of what made that record and the various singles around the same time so special.
Good Luck and Do Your Best is out now on City Slang.