Luckily however, I was still able to get to hear this album easily enough because it was just released here on Already Dead Tapes. Panda Kid is the solo project of Alberto Manfrin, and his first album, Scary Monster Juice can be described in a way as a lo-fi work, but there are a million lo-fi bands born every day and most die unnoticed because they have nothing new to say. But there’s something special, perhaps indefinable, about Panda Kid. Maybe it’s because it’s just so out there and unconventional for lo-fi standards, but more importantly, not is it only so ambitious but Manfrin succeeds wonderfully.
The entire album is an incredibly experimental work of fuzzed out instrumentals and Berlin Trilogy phrasing and melodies, and rarely does anything on this album go without some level of distortion. The album does essentially begin with thirty seconds of pure noise, and the second track “Panda in Space” is just a minute and fifty seconds of Terry Riley ambiance.
However, underneath all the layers of noise and experimentation is actually a batch of really great pop songs. Even though the first track “Junkie Girl” does begin with the aforementioned bursts of explosive noises, when you get down to the real meat of the song, it’s an amazing piece of modern garage, and through enough digging you can find the pure essence of even the most experimental of songs on this record. It’s hard not to believe these songs could all be hits if they were polished, but maybe he never wanted it that way and I must say, I have to agree with him.So, in a way, Manfrin has ingeniously built this natural defense system, filtering out any unwanted listeners so in the end he’s only left with people that truly get what he’s doing, and I think it’s meant to be that way. Actually, while the first side is perhaps his most experimental, by the end of side two, he reaches what can be considered the pinnacle of his most straightforward recordings, at least for his standards, closing with a trilogy of garage at its finest with “Surfer Girl” (not Brian Wilson’s), “Arizona,” and “Cookie Weed.” “Arizona” is actually my pick for the album’s greatest song, and it’s wonderfully daring and clever for him to hide the best song on the entire record so deep with in the tracklisting. So sure, taken for its surface value this is by no means an accessible album and maybe I kept listening to it because I love lo-fi quasi-experimental garage albums anyway, but take my word, give Scary Monster Juice enough of a chanceand it will reward you like no other.
It’s on sale here on CD on Dead Dog Records, and cassette on Already Dead Tapes and one of the better cassette labels out now. They’ve really taken some chances, but they consistently have some great releases.