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PANIC ROOM Skin Esoteric Antenna (2012)

Panic Room

'Skin' could well be the album that defines Panic Room. The debut album in 2008 saw them finding their feet away from the prog colossus that was Karnataka but was a worthy first step whilst 2010's 'Satellite' saw the band further outlining their brand of organic, soulful and melodic prog that is also commercial and accessible at the same time.

Once again the band's sound is elevated by the wonderful vocals of Anne-Marie Helder who together with Jon Edwards on keyboards has written most of the album. In places she sounds like Kate Bush in a full blown prog rock band and the album's first standout (of many) is 'Chameleon' enhanced by a string arrangement performed by The Larkin Quartet.

And 'Chameleon' is a fair description of the band, able to switch effortlessly from the dark and pondering to the more elevating although 'Hiding The World' stands out as the only really 'rocky' track whilst still managing to retain the core elements and values of the album (and band).

In terms of consistency, 'Nocturnal' maintains the quality right to the end although the wonderful elastic keyboard/guitar interplay that worked so well on 'Sandstorms' (on the bonus disc version of 'Satellite') is only hinted at in the mid-section breakdown where strings provide the counterpoint.

The use of strings is extensive on the album and gives the overall feel of 'Skin' one of gravitas and melancholia (never more so than on the title track) but they are often deployed in a novel way - the entrée to 'Screens' leads us in to a funky synth-led rhythm and the overall feel of 'Freedom To Breathe' or '5th Amendment' on 'Satellite' (although with overtones of Europe's 'Catch That Plane'!). 'Chances' on the other hand is driven by an infectious Spanish-sounding acoustic riff.

'Tightrope Walking' takes a little time to work its charm but as with the album as a whole it demands and rewards repeated listening whilst 'Promises' returns the band to one of the more immediate pieces and after the brief respite of 'Velvet & Stars' (with just Helder and Davies' guitar) 'Freefalling' pushes the catchy quotient upfront again.

Throughout, the musical standards are high with now resident bassist Yatim Alimi and Gavin John Griffiths providing rock steady rhythms and Paul Davies always tasteful guitar.

One criticism that has been levelled at the band - unfairly in my opinion - is that they are not the best self-publicists in an age which demands it but now in the Esoteric camp and their Antenna offshoot they have found a resourceful label that can maybe push them to the next level. And perhaps now there will be a focus away from Mostly Autumn for a couple of the band members. The future must surely lie here.

It might also be wrong to pigeon hole Panic Room as prog as like its predecessor 'Skin' is simply full of well constructed, attractive, and durable tunes that wouldn't - in better days - sound out of place on BBC Radio 2. In that sense, this is truly wonderful stuff that demands a wider audience.


Review by David Randall

David Randall presents 'Assume The Position' on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT

Panic Room were Featured Artist at Get Ready to ROCK! in August 2010

Album review (Visionary Position)

Album review (Satellite)

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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