(10 July 2012) The first recording by Panic Room following their signing to a label is the band's eleven-track project Skin (Firefly Music/Cherry Red Records Ltd/Esoteric Antenna (UK) EANTCD 1006, 2012). It follows the band's successful debut album Visionary Position (2008) and follow-up Satellite (2010) published in single and two-CD versions. The four-track Altitude EP was released to tide fans over in 2011. Read more about the band in our forthcoming interview with Jonathan Edwards and Anne-Marie Helder.
Panic Room are a modern alt-rock band and while their former releases have included epic length tracks and also span a diverse range of musical themes, the tracks on Skin are tighter, more restrained and stylistically focused. The new album is presented as a beautiful trifold digipak with a lovely 16-page full-color removable booklet with lyrics and attractive artwork. One band photo is also included. The eleven well-produced tracks run an hour in total length.
The foundation of Panic Room--Anne-Marie Helder (vocals, guitars), Jonathan Edwards (keyboards, guitars), Paul Davies (guitars) and Gavin John Griffiths (drums)--spun off from Karnataka when the lineup disbanded in 2005. Yatim Halimi (bass) joins the line-up for Skin. The Larkin Quartet--comprised of Dave Larkin (violin), Henry Salmon (violin), Allan Grant (viola) and Leah Evans (cello)--provide the string section on the album; Tim Hamill provides baritone guitar on "Tightrope Walking." Avid enthusiasts will know that Anne-Marie and Gavin are also part of the current Mostly Autumn line-up.
"Song For Tomorrow" provides an excellent introduction to the sound of Skin. Although the string quartet appears immediately, Anne-Marie Helder's crystalline vocals soar atop crunching guitar as the song develops. The sharp contrast between a tenderly delivered verse and powerful chorus works extremely well. Each of the band members demonstrate their chops in the grand opening track. We especially appreciated the members' individual solos--guitar, keyboard, drums and vocal--during the song's midsection.
One of the longest tracks lyrically is the vocal-driven "Chameleon." Anne-Marie is backed primarily by keyboard, although strings, guitar and rhythm section each notably contribute to the stunning arrangement. The seven-minute "Tightrope Walking" opens with percussion harkening eastern themes. The most lyrically rich of the album's tracks, the song's gradual stylistic transition from ballad to full-on rocker clearly make it the most progressive of the album. The string quartet and guitar passages work play off each other extremely well.
The unique ballad "Velvet & Stars," sensually delivered by Anne-Marie singing atop a Fender Telecaster played clean with just a little tremolo by Jonathan Edwards, is the first number performed by the band's core writing team. The contrasts between string quartet passages, funky keyboard and guitar parts in "Screens" provides a unique backdrop for Anne-Marie's powerful vocals.
A memorable melody joined by the tight acoustic and electric guitar and string quartet arrangements in the rock number "Chances" clearly make it one of the album's standouts. Listen for the multitracked vocal harmonies in the track. "Promises" is another album standout. A rock number with rich string arrangements and electric guitar, Anne-Marie delivers an outstanding vocal performance as well. Similarly arranged, vocalise adds depth to the longer "Freefalling." The contrast between verse and chorus and uniquely styled breaks make the track work especially well.
The album's evocative title track is backed with a lush combination of string quartet and delicate keyboard. Crisp percussion and guitar adds depth to the arrangement supporting Anne-Marie's soaring vocal work. A brief guitar solo closes the number. "Hiding The World" is the album's most powerful and metallic number and is likely to be an in-concert favorite. While crunching electric guitar drives the arrangement, the strings add a tremendous texture to the sound, especially in the verses. Following a brief pause and in sharp contrast, Anne-Marie's a capella vocalise solo reprise of "Screens" becomes an interlude to "Nocturnal."
The album concludes with the album's longest track entitled "Nocturnal." An otherwise standard verse-chorus structure is extended with additional vocalise and instrumental passages that encapsulate the textures of album's prior ten songs. Listen for Jonathan Edwards' especially well-played keyboard solo during the first instrumental and Paul Davies guitar solo suring the second.
Panic Room's move to the Esoteric Antenna label of Cherry Reds Records has given the band broader distribution and access to additional promotional opportunities. Indeed Skin is generally available in many territories.
Panic Room's new album is a cohesive body of well-produced music that continues to feature the stunning vocal work of Anne-Marie Helder. Superb!