Whether we have nostalgia-bait music festivals with enormous budgets to thank for this or the internet’s ability to dredge up and celebrate music that went largely ignored upon release, 2023 seems to be nearly as good a time as the mid-2000s for anyone who was really into bands that fell off the face of the Earth after releasing their only record during that decade. While most of these groups lean toward the heavier side of things (City of Caterpillar, Gospel, etc.), Panchiko can be seen as the most fascinating case: a dream-pop-by-way-of-trip-hop outfit who Lewis-ed their way into deep-internet stardom in the quarter decade since unofficially releasing their only album, a demo originally uncovered at a thrift store.
But perhaps the only thing more unlikely than their gradual virality was their sudden return—first as a touring unit and now as recording artists, with their first officially released album Failed at Math(s) arriving in all its left-field indietronica glory. Like those aforementioned post-hardcore bands, Panchiko seem to have their fingers on the pulse just as adequately as they did at the turn of the century, with the new LP sounding just as much rooted in the now-retro charm of their initial era (everything about the opening title track screams Yoshimi) as it is pushing for new sounds crossing unexpected genres (instrumental closer “Rocking with Keith” reminds me a bit of The Alchemist soundtracking Armand Hammer).
Some of these songs may be familiar to diehard fans (which I would assume most of Panchiko’s are), as the band took some of the demos originally housed on their recently released archival collection Ferric Oxide and gave them “a nice jacket and a fancy hat,” in band member Owain Davies’ fairly British words. As for the rest of the album, everything feels unexpected in a way that we’ve come to expect from the band. As Davies’ bandmate Andy Wright assures us, “Specific conditions were cultivated in order to recreate the writing process of 20 years ago: sat on the sofa, surrounded by snacks, games consoles; music machines were sampled, lyrics mumbled, and three chord progressions were strummed over drum loops and blips and bloops.” He makes it sound easy.
With the record out today, Wright and Davies walked us through each track, providing a sense of when each recording was conceived over the past two decades while also establishing once and for all what niche genre their music falls under. Stream the LP and read their words below.
1. “Failed at Math(s)”
Andy: Specific conditions were cultivated in order to recreate the writing process of 20 years ago: sat on the sofa, surrounded by snacks, games consoles; music machines were sampled, lyrics mumbled, and three chord progressions were strummed over drum loops and blips and bloops. “Failed at Math(s)” is a song about how the precursor to realizing 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.
Andy: When we began to consider how a new Panchiko album might sound, this is what popped out. I say “popped out” as if it didn’t take months for us to finally complete. It wasn’t so much the production aspects of which the song now comprises that took the time; it was the process of gradually removing elements, experimenting and changing things around whilst trying to extract some kind of transferable essence and general texture from the track that could help us to see a way forward with the rest of the songs.
Owain: I was really into the idea of ancestry at the time, and the thought that each of us is the culmination of the generations preceding us. Every experience and encounter shapes us and adds to our story. Some of the meaning behind the song covers feelings of pressure and tackling things on your own. Trying to find something you need, but finding that what you need is perhaps with you all along. We worked with the super talented animator Shunsaku Hayashi on this one. He came up with a beautiful—if somewhat unsettling—video based on the above lyrical prompts. I really enjoyed recording piano from my brother’s place on this one, too.
3. “Until I Know”
Andy: This was plucked from our demo album Ferric Oxide. The demo itself was just half a song, recorded 22 years ago. We’ve since been performing a new version for about six months at our live shows, and it was a real treat to finally record it. This is the kind of song that should be playing whilst cruising top down through LA—or the UK equivalent, Skegness. It’s “top down misery pop,’ a new genre. Yeah, that’s what we do.
4. “Breakfast Séance”
Owain: It was summer and really hot in the studio. I’d bought some new percussion and did my very best to sneak it into as many songs as possible. The song was built up from the groove, and as it built, I couldn’t help picturing Morecambe and Wise and their breakfast sketch, making breakfast to a tune whilst trying to conduct a séance. It’s by no means impossible, but not for the faint of heart.
5. “Find It (A Song)”
Andy: This one started out as an experiment with the Fugue Machine sequencer. I originally posted a short video featuring an early version of the song on Instagram. Our Panchiko friends seemed to like it, and so we let it grow from there. Consortium-based songwriting isn’t something we’d advise, but can be valuable in its own right. Lyrically the song is an expression of what it’s like to be in Panchiko, present day—amazing and possibly a little overwhelming at times!
6. “Gwen Everest”
Andy: The song is about watching someone you care about make really bad decisions, bad decisions that they will not take your advice on, and having to watch it all play. We never got around to recording this one properly the first time around, so it was great to get a version down with a full band.
7. “Think That’s Too Wise”
Andy: It’s another slice of top down misery pop. A demo that we originally released on Ferric Oxide, the song could be interpreted as being infatuated with someone, but reaching a point at which you can’t support their actions.
8. “Rocking with Keith”
Owain: Possibly the only original recording from 20 years ago that survived in a remixable state. A demo recorded on my old Akai DPS12 multi-tracker. I bounced the stems out and gave them to Andy to see what he could do with them. Originally an instrumental, I tried to write lyrics, but eventually felt it best not to stray too far from the original either in terms of the mix or the instrumental nature of it. There are a few additional overdubs and some singing (really quiet at the end), but it was just nice to tidy it up and make it feel like it was finished. It’s been given a new jacket and fancy hat.