P Is for Panda Mix Tape Vol. 1, the first release from the new Hopeless imprint, is a marked departure from its parent label (for some, quite thankfully). Assuredly, this 16-song compilation sure ain't a return to Hopeless' roots either, though.
Eight artists contribute two tracks each, and be ready to expect some pretty countrified songs. Much of the material on P Is for Panda lands in that sort of Americana-esque, (alt-)country territory, sometimes with hearty leanings of `90s alternative (think Counting Crows, the Wallflowers) and other times with more of a vice-versa slant. A few times you can tell the dudes get unironically stoked on Tom Petty, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen (but who doesn't, really?). But whether the fault of the bands or otherwise, many of the songs disappointingly blend into each other despite their differences and make the compilation, at over an hour's running time, a tedious listen.
Josh Moore is a good example of the frustration that bubbles up. The pleasant, warm voice of the former Beloved frontman is comforting and lovely, sounding like it was tailor-made for such a soulful acoustic sound, but his two songs, the down-home "Rush Down My Spine" and "Ghostly Reminders" are pretty forgettable. Hopefully he has better stuff in him -- give him the songwriting talent of a Dustin Kensrue (someone who's always been compared alongside Moore one way or another since Failure: On was released five years ago) and his impact will likely be felt.
It's pretty amusing that Gasoline Heart has a definite Springsteen vibe running through them, since their name seems nearly identical to a certain fellow band with an affinity for The Boss. "Shake It Off" isn't too bad though, and "Burn Bright (But Burn Far Away)" is tender and impressive.
One of the odder stories on here is Discover America, whose underrated Psychology album in 2005 was an effective slab or melancholic, understated and electronic-inflected indie rock. His contributions here, "Miles of Grey" and "How It Started," almost seem molded to better fit the vibes on P Is for Panda, with more of a noticeable, Jeff Buckley-esque twang to his voice than usual. "How It Started" is admittedly more acoustic and dreamy, however, perhaps like Chris Staples' recordings under his proper name.
Damon Suomi's epic acoustic shuffle "Darwin, Jesus, The Devil, And Me" is okay, but all I can really think about is how much he resembles some weird hybrid of two-parts-Michael Stipe and one-part-Jeff Mangum.
Otherwise, this compilation is just sort of dull. Having a basically pleasant listening experience can only be so enjoyable and P Is for Panda has its limits, especially with how long it is. However, getting exclusive songs from a few good acts here is nice and it definitely has its certain moments.
Gasoline Heart - Shake It Off
Pasadena - I Held You Pretty Good
Damon Suomi - Darwin, Jesus, The Devil, And Me