he Hiss have a few things going for them. They’ve got moderate NME hype, for whatever that’s worth, a cool band name, a great title for a first album (lifted from a branch of surrealist art), and some of the finest cover art I’ve seen in the last little while. Looking at this album, I’m prepared for some great thrilling noisy mess, probably simultaneously sludgy and angular. You’d think by now, having written about music on a regular basis for around four years now, surfaces would stop appealing to me so much, but I’ve been tricked once again. If the package is so intriguing, why do I keep having the urge to eject Panic Movement from my computer and go hunt down that copy of Lupine Howl’s first album instead?
Both bands trade on a similarly vague notion of rawk sleaziness and menace, but whereas the Other Guys Jason Pierce kicked out of Spiritualized at least have the balls to have a song called “Sniff The Glue” and to let their songs spiral out past ten minutes, the Hiss only blandly echo…
You know, I can’t remember who I thought they sounded like. Better go listen to it again. Excuse me.
Ah, right. Singer/guitarist Adrian Barrera has a delivery that occasionally brings to mind Here Comes The Zoo-era Local H, albeit not as angry. His vocals are actually the worst thing about the Hiss, with near-constant reference to clichés concerning rock authenticity (“Step Aside”) and cringe-inducing guitarist-as-gunslinger metaphors (on album nadir “Not For Sale”). The rest of the time they mostly plod; “Riverbed” is a serviceable Led Zeppelin homage, but not particularly compelling. Most of the album sounds like early Cooper Temple Clause…if they only had one idea at a time.
It’s not all that bad, though. Opener “Clever Kicks” gets things off on the right foot, even if it is a perfectly predictable nu garage stomper. The middle of the album (on the Sanctuary version; the 2003 version released on Loog has a different tracklist) is surprisingly strong, starting with the paranoid “Lord’s Prayer”, which is basically “Clever Kicks” redux.
The seething “Triumph” follows hard on the heels of “Lord’s Prayer”, starting out distorted but reassuring (“Imagine never feeling pain again”) but quickly warping into the nightmarish (“Imagine being stabbed by all your friends”). After its steady churn subsides the most restrained song on Panic Movement, “Listen To Me” starts up sounding like the same song on mild sleeping pills. But when the multitracked vocal line starts it immediately proves to be a change of pace. And while the lyrics aren’t exactly stunning, its got a mellow psychedelic rush that’s more enjoyable than the more blustery rockers on display.
After that there’s a few more forgettable songs and then the “epic” closer (which, in the Hiss’ defence, was originally in the middle of the album) “Ghost’s Gold”. By far the best thing on Panic Movement, it builds atmosphere with graveyard harmonica, Stonesy vocals and a backing chorale over a simple beat far more effectively than the other numbers here, as Barrera howls a tale of “some strange baptism”.
I have no particular grudges against “alternative rock”, and even though I’d expected something more interesting than that, if the Hiss had just kicked out the proverbial jams I would have been happy. Instead Panic Movement is far too samey and too much emphasis is put on the lyrics, which are not the Hiss’strong suit. A couple of the songs here, especially “Ghost’s Gold”, suggest that the band can do better, but if that’s going to happen the band is going to have to get much weirder.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2004-05-10