Panchiko– Failed At Math(s)
The story behind Panchiko and their re-discovery and comeback has reached legendary status in Internet music circles. How could it not? It’s an inspiring tale with a happy ending: an enigmatic CD from an unheard of band recorded in 2000 was discovered in a used bin in 2016, and after a search spanning 4chan, Reddit, and Discord, the band was located in 2020. (Justin Whang has a good history on YouTube here.) Instead of simply acknowledging the record and maybe selling some copies on Bandcamp, Panchiko did what probably every musician who used to have a band in high school wishes they could do: they reunited and started making new music. And beyond any skeptical expectations…they’re still very good.
Failed At Math(s) has much in common musically with their first EP D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L and the second EP the band revealed existed, Kicking Cars. Partly this can be explained by some songs being demos from years past, but it’s also just Panchiko’s natural style, still strong after all these years. Yet there is a progression here, with evolving song construction and better realized compositions.
That first album had a nostalgic sound on mine and other’s first encounter two decades later because of the passage of time, but it was also forward looking back then, and this has helped Panchiko’s new music still feel fresh. Shoegaze, math rock, and even trip hop all come together in a melange of styles on Failed At Math(s), with an atmosphere that at times reminds me of Kid A era Radiohead. Fans of ambient music, lo-fi pop, and vaporwave styles that have become popular in the intervening years will also enjoy this album—one doesn’t need to know anything about the music that reigned when Panchiko first formed to enjoy this new record, and I think that shows what true talent these guys have that’s been lying dormant all this time.
Panchiko (photo by Tom Morley)
The original lineup of Panchiko consisted of Owain Davies (vocals, guitar and sampling), Andrew Wright (guitar, keyboards and sampling), Shaun Ferreday (bass and effects), and a drummer named John; the first three are all here again, while Robert Harris has joined as a second guitarist and John Schofield provides the drums. For old schoolmates to click this well after two decades says something about the band’s artistic chemistry. They had this to say about reconvening:
Highly specialised conditions were cultivated in order to emulate the writing process of 20 years ago:
Sat on the sofa.
Surrounded by snacks.
Games consoles and music machines were sampled, lyrics mumbled and 3 chord progressions were strummed over drum loops and blips and bloops.
The title track “Failed At Math(s)” kicks right in with Panchiko’s now well-known signature sampling along with gentle vocal melodies, managing to be gliding and groovy and finger-snapping all at once on this “song about how the precursor to realising a vaguely acceptable, if still somewhat disappointing, end result, is acknowledging and casting off the patterns that lead us to fail over and over (and over) again.”
The single “Portraits” is languid yet angular, and according to the band “based around the thought that each of us is the culmination of the generations that precedes us. Every experience and encounter shapes us and adds to our story.” A music video by animator Shunsaku Hayashi serves as a fitting complement.
This is followed by another single, “Until I Know,” which has one of the catchiest guitar riffs I’ve heard in recent years—I’m not lying when I say I can’t stop hitting repeat on this song, which is described by the band as “top down cruising misery pop.” Miserable or not, it’s also an instant classic.
The instrumental “Breakfast Seance” follows those three lead tracks, and feels like the soundtrack to a spy movie. “Find It” (A Song)” is synthy with a vocal melody that veers off into a nearly modern pop-R&B direction. Throughout the record, Davies’ voice is still gorgeous, going from a haunting croon on tracks like “Until I Know” to soaring heights on “Gwen Everest,” which aims perhaps the highest of all the tracks on Failed At Math(s), with shoegaze dynamics, epic guitars and punching drums, while lasting only a surprising 3 minutes. That’s the story for many of these songs, and the length usually works; the exception is “Think That’s Too Wise,” a fast, fuzzy song that I wanted a bit more of. (I also wanted more of that interesting bassline in the mix.)
“Rocking With Keith,” the only song that lasts more than around three and a half minutes, is a great choice of closer, an instrumental with a glitchy-piano intro, middle lull, and triumphant crescendo up to the end. Choosing to make Failed At Math(s) only eight tracks long works out: each song seems deliberately chosen with no filler. It would have been tempting for Panchiko to shoot what may be their only comeback shot and go big with a longer album, but they seem to have decided this was enough. Whether that’s because the record felt right at this length (and it does) or if that’s all they felt like doing, I’m unsure. I hope it’s the former, because I’d love to hear more albums from them in the future.
Panchiko (photo by Tom Morley)
The original members, only 16 and 17 when they first formed the band, obviously have their own lives now—Wright became a sound engineer and played in the band Swimming, Davies became an educator, and Ferreday (who had sold his guitars and not played music in years) became a tree surgeon. But they are touring now in support of Failed At Math(s), which shows that music still calls to them. They will be in NYC for two shows at Le Poisson Rouge on 5/30 and 5/31, and I’m looking forward to catching at least one of these. It’s a sentimental feeling, but I think once music lives inside you, there’s no real way to quench that flame. Panchiko appeal to me both behind the scenes and in my headphones, and if I’m honest, they inspire me.