Sunday, 3 October 2010
PANDA SU - Sticks and Bricks EP
For me, the most enjoyable sets at the Moseley Folk Festival tend to be not the headline acts, who can at times be embarrassing, but the smaller artists who play earlier in the day. The best bands can often be found away from the main stage, in Ben Calvert's Bohemian Jukebox tent. Ben always invites a number of local songwriters, many of whom I know personally, so it's a pleasant place to relax in the middle of the day. He also manages to find one or two performers from further afield, and on the final day of this year's festival, Ben's excellent judgement introduced me to what has become my favourite new artist of 2010.
Panda Su is the project of Su Shaw, a young lady from Fife who started her musical career playing drums in a death metal band, if the biography in the folk festival programme is to be believed. There is no evidence of her satanic leanings in the delicate melodies that she served up at Moseley and also on this EP. She has been compared to freak folk acts such as CocoRosie and Diane Cluck, but I am particularly reminded of Cat Power. Many of you will be aware that I have pretty much abandoned Cat Power in recent years, as I find her more soulful, full band sound hard to relate to. Panda Su manages to capture the sparse sound of Cat Power's much-ignored earlier albums.
Su seems to have something of a panda fixation, and for her live show she often uses black and white make-up to transform herself into one of the giant bears. Older rock fans amongst you might also suggest that she looks like a member of the classic line-up of Kiss, but I don't think that's intentional. Listening closely to the four songs on offer here, I can see the relevance of the panda. Many people consider a panda to be cute and fluffy, but it actually has sharp teeth and would rip you to shreds if you tried to stroke it. Su's fragile tunes seem similarly pretty at first, but dig beneath the surface and there is a constant dark theme of self-doubt and dwelling on past events. Su seems particularly concerned with former friends and lovers, and I think it's likely that if she ever runs into one of these people who mistreated her then she will also rip them apart with her panda-like teeth.
Although very different in sound, I can't help thinking of the Richard Hawley record that I reviewed about a year ago. Just as with Hawley's lyrics, Su has a knack of writing about real life with amazing honesty but also manages to be just vague enough that any listener could apply it to their own experiences. One of the most poignant lines comes on "Moviegoer", where Su mourns that "the problem with myself is that I long to be someone else". This sums up many people's problems and perhaps explains why we all bury ourselves in music to escape from the stressful things in life. It also makes it clear that Su, and everyone else, has just the same problems as me, so there's really not much point in dwelling on recent events, wishing things had turned out differently or longing to be someone else. I think anyone listening to the EP will be able to relate to that general point while also applying some of the other lyrics to very specific aspects of their own lives.
This is one of those rare releases where I can't pick a favourite song because I love all of them equally. Here are several of the tracks from the EP performed live - you'll need to turn the sound up, for the second one in particular, as these are quiet recordings:
This EP is quite hard to track down, but you can get it from Su directly via her MySpace page. There were several songs in her live set that are not included on the EP, so I hope it won't be long before her next release. Until then, I'm going to keep playing these four tracks until my neighbours are sick of hearing them.