Pan American

Cloud Room, Glass Room

Kranky • 2013

Popular wisdom says that no two eggs are exactly alike. The message is that obvious similarities often bear essential differences. In that sense, it’s valid to say that no two records by Pan American are exactly alike. For 15 years, Mark Nelson has re-invented himself and his project Pan American step by step, record by record. Sometimes, the music focuses on electronic impulses, sometimes acoustic ones. It’s here dub and their rock (with countless prefixes), and still always remains Pan American. Yet, as the seventh LP by the name of »Cloud Room, Glass Room« proves, he always knows how to surprise us: Because Pan American is a band now. Percussionist and drummer Steven Hess, who also threw in some ideas for the previous album »White Bird Release« from 2009, is now an inherent part of the concept. As is bassist Robert Donne, who already made music together with Nelson at the beginning of the 1990s at Labradford. But it’s Steve Hess, in particular, who sets the tone on »Cloud Room, Glass Room« with his drumming, practiced over the years together with Locrian, Ural Umbo, Fessenden, On or the Dropp Ensemble. The focus on rhythmic structures, which was the initial impulse for the founding of Pan American in 1997, is now answering to something completely new, which makes the music come forward with an utterly different sound. Hess’ drumming is varied and never boring. It’s neither framework nor decoration of Mark Nelson’s soundscapes, but rather an equal companion to Nelson’s sketches, side by side. Thereby a contrast comes into being, like in »5th Avenue«: There is a sound-surface that’s limited to a small selection of sounds, which moves the different tones through the soundscape, while the drum opposes that mood with a bustling fidgetiness. If you look at the individual parts, you’ll find beauty or even hints of a genius. However, when they interplay, a different kind of poignancy comes into being, a kind of threatening urgency. It’s fun to listen to that dialogue because its result is an experience unheard of so far. – It’s not clear, yet, if the soft return towards rocky contexts makes the circle complete, which has once started at Labradford, or if it’s a step backwards. In the end, it might even be both.