A Kung Fu practitioner, stuntman, event curator and accomplished musician, Tom Lugo is one of life’s great polymaths. Think that takes up all his time? Think again. When he’s not chopping blocks in two or somersaulting over cars, he’s gainfully employed as head honcho at Patetico Records in the southwest suburbs of Philadelphia.
Despite his numerous appearances in various other projects, Panophonic is Lugo’s solo and single-minded musical project; as one might expect, Endlessly is presented, produced and promoted through his own label, taking the DIY ethos to the next level.
Endlessly is dream-pop at its most unapologetic. From opener “Naughty Games”, the tone of ethereal pads disappearing into clouded fuzz is set, the sound akin to a primal drone that’s haunting and soothing in equal measure.
Throughout the album, the guitar work is careful, considered and yet highly expressive. The astral distortion of “We Have Today” puts the soul through the emotional tumble dryer, while the heavily reverb-ed guitar of “Summer Is At An End” is highly reminiscent of the fluid ballads of Going Blank Again-era Ride.
When they are not toying with …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead-style crunched beats, Panophonic’s programmed drums are at their most accomplished on “Sweetest Thing”, the almost-IDM rhythms clashing with the dreamy textures, such that you’ll soon be wondering if your heart is operating at 2 or 200 beats per minute.
The lyrics deal unashamedly with themes of darkness and loss, yet hope shines through in many moments. Discussing the inspiration behind the album, Lugo has commented that the work is about discovering new chapters in life and being able to find renewed purpose: “When I thought that all that was left for me was loss and pain I found new inspiration and a reason to smile again.”
Endlessly is without doubt a polished masterclass of dreampop and shoegaze, but the lack of variation can be difficult listening, despite the album’s accessible 45 minute length. I would have perhaps liked to see a more delicate balance of ethereal, pop and experimental tenors between tracks – think Cocteau Twins in Heaven Or Las Vegas or Glasvegas when they drift into noisepop territory.
This said, there are very clear moments of promise in ”What can I do”; furthermore, “Addicted” portrays a completely different side of Panophonic and for me is easily the best song on the album. Along with its unnerving delayed guitar, there’s a goth and slightly sludgy feel to the track that borrows industrial elements from bands like KMFDM and Skinny Puppy.
Throughout the album, Tom Lugo’s vocals owe a lot to Jesus and Mary Chain, with a depth that relies heavily on Psychocandy; it came as little surprise to hear that Lugo has performed on Jesusland, a tribute to the shoegaze pioneers. Suffice to say, if you’re a fan of the Chain, and have plenty of time for other big names in the shoegaze genre such as Ride and My Bloody Valentine, you’re sure to fall endlessly in love with Panophonic’s latest offering.
Endlessly is out on February 13th.
Header image by Mandy McGee Photography