Panikon begins on a rail of almost touchable synths with the song, “Confused”. It’s an album opener that, through a clever chord progression, throws the listener into a pleasant pop mood that’s in stark contrast to the singer’s exclamations of desertion (“What is this place?/Where am I?/Does anybody hear me”?). Yet these all add up to moments of uncertainty and mystery, where the listener won’t know where the band is heading. Of course, such confusion is eventually lifted and it soon becomes clear what Grimus‘ forte is and at the same time their weakness. It’s their alternative rock. So, who’s Grimus?
Grimus was formed in the city of Cluj-Napoca, which happens to be the third largest city of Romania. The band came from the foundation of the members’ former five-piece project, Revers. After taking the name Grimus in 2006, they released an ambitious three track demo to much acclaim. In fact, one of the three tracks, “Solitude”, was named “Song of the Year 2006 ” by Bucharest-based rock music channel City FM Radio). The group’s musical impact was further confirmed and put into immediate action when they were chosen to represent Romania in Global Battle of the Bands last October. Then came the studio debut.
I think it can be harmful to put the heavy load on a young band to balance such acts of reference as Radiohead, Placebo, The Killers and Porcupine Tree, all of which have been garnered. Hence, I’d like to limit these comparisons to some extent, even though Grimus has earned themselves at least a few of these referential points. Partly because the band does not have any specific problems in finding their own sound, at least if Panikon is concerned. Judging on the release, it’s audible that the band has gone into the studio with more eagerly itching musical fingers than say veterans Thom Yorke or Brandon Flowers more recently. (Note: I stated since their respective bands’ debut albums).
Panikon is ambitious, and the band’s not afraid to play around with sounds and structures. Most of all, to separate it from several of its alternative rock forefathers, the album’s inclined to deliver melody-heavy pop tunes. Lead singer Bogdan Mezofi’s characteristically dramatic vocal output conveniently lands somewhere in-between Flowers’ high-pitched and Yorke’s trendsetting, slanting melodic paranoia. Although interesting, it takes a few listens of the album to get fully comfortable with Mezofi’s light singing style and his Romanian accent.
So despite a good sense of creating pop songs of The Killers standards and an emotional twist hinting more than straight-out borrowing soundscapes and moods from any given Radiohead album, Panikon does not deliver much. The titles couldn’t possibly be any clearer than “Confused”, “Political Animals”, “Insanity” and “Addiction” but all are seemingly unable to make me feel connected to the subjects. This is due in part of the band getting lost somewhere in the no-man’s-land between their hard post-punk melancholia and the catchy uplifting pop without ever being able to fully reach and accomplish any of them. Blame it on my supposed fascination to rather see them represent Romania in the conformed Eurovision Song Contest than a global contest for innovative, underground, indie bands.
My theory is that Panikon is most likely to be a success in only Romania and the surrounding Slavic countries from which its melodic (as a European citizen I can say that “Backseat Driver”‘s melody sounds utterly familiar to me) and pop music tradition descend from. Lastly, I’d like to take the last words from Moe Szyslak (of The Simpsons) to express my relationship with Grimus after listening to Panikon: “I’m a well-wisher, in that I don’t wish you any specific harm”.
Grimus – Confused
Grimus – Backseat Driver