On his 2010 debut, Lucky Shiner, Gold Panda presented a patchwork of electronic dance music genres, from breakbeat to glitch to dub to ambient, over a sprawling 47 minutes. The result was a strong, if somewhat disconnected, introduction to one of the most intriguing, assured beatmakers to emerge out of the U.K.’s crowded EDM scene. Due in part to its evocative song titles and sonic collage aesthetic, Gold Panda’s follow-up, Half of Where You Live, plays like a travelogue of sorts, taking the disparate elements of Lucky Shiner and stitching them together into a unified whole.
The opening cut, “Junk City II,” establishes the album’s sonic thesis, adorned as it is with light static interference, snapping snares, and flashes of oriental instrumentation, reveling in creating open spaces, allowing each layer and each melody an opportunity to breathe. Where Gold Panda differs from fellow open-space EDM peers like James Blake is that, rather than use reverb or other tricks to create room within his arrangements, he employs an acute sense of structure and dynamics to produce an expanse; there’s an intricacy to the way he introduces each new sound, letting them reveal themselves slowly. Gold Panda uses the crack of the handclaps to bring out the dulcet tones of the marimba on “Junk City II,” while potentially messy layers of wind chimes are contrasted with thick clouds of ambient noise on “My Father in Hong Kong 1961,” one of the album’s most engrossing tracks, resulting in a floating barge of harmony.
Elsewhere, Gold Panda often matches form and content, using ephemeral soundscapes to evoke physical landscapes. “We Work the Night,” with its pulsing bassline, short synth stabs, and lightly strummed guitars, is like a more polished version of Burial’s “Night Bus,” equally evocative in its portrayal of pre-dawn calm, but with a sense of optimism, not paranoia. “An English House” continually creaks and folds in on itself, a warm mood board of flute, xylophone, and static at its core, whereas “Enoshima” is more interested in decay, an eerie blend of reversed synth lines and chopped bass.
Where Lucky Shiner felt like an exercise in crate-digging, an admittedly playful and listenable flaunting of cultural capital, Half of Where You Live boasts a newfound depth and poise. It’s a remarkable exploration of self—an undoubtedly personal album, packed with a sense of history, circumstance, opportunity, love, and fleeting memories.