Gold Panda's 2010 LP, Lucky Shiner, was as triumphant a full-length debut as any producer has had in the past three years. Since then, his output has been steady, if somewhat understated—a handful of singles and EPs have surfaced, each seeming to find the producer tinkering with scattered ideas and in search of a concrete direction to take his craft. Listening to his sophomore album, Half of Where You Live, it appears that he's settled on a direction that's not so far removed from the dusty beatscapes and homemade house and techno of his debut; Gold Panda is still making sample-based, melodically rich music with a poignant personal touch, but now that approach is yielding even better results.
Given the three-year gap, Lucky Shiner has aged nicely, save for maybe the hook-laden "You," which has become a casualty of over-rinsing, not to mention a misguided appropriation or two. Still, the choice to not entirely overhaul the core sonic ideas presented on his past LP proves to be a smart one. With Half of Where You Live, Gold Panda sounds like himself, but he's more refined aesthetically, and much more mature musically. That is not to say that this LP does not have its share of enticing hooks or flashes of pop-like accessibility, but that those moments are a bit more withheld now. "Brazil" is an early example of such; built atop a percolating house beat, the tune unfurls a dense set of reversed samples topped with only a few glimpses of outright leading melody and a voice which reminds the listener of the song's title over and over. In the moment, the song is immediately appealing and almost uplifting—it's the kind of track that might work as well at a sun-soaked festival as it would on a long summer drive—but when "Brazil" completes its five-minute run, there are no sticky refrains left rattling around one's head, just the warm feeling the track leaves behind. Many of the LP's other efforts strike a similar balance—"An English House" employs a particularly Lone-indebted glow with its drum-machine-led house, "We Work the Nights" densely piles heavenly strings and ringing guitar strums on top of one another, and "Flinton" works a simple piano progression into a warbly, jazz-touched exercise.
At their core, Gold Panda's productions live and die by the strength of the samples chosen and the way in which they are manipulated. On Half of Where You Live, the man's craftsmanship as a sample-based producer shines—the dusty textures, chords, and melodies he lifts from various vinyl sources are not manicured to perfection; instead, they've been plainly reshaped to hold their essence while staying within the desired context of the track. It has been said that Gold Panda sought to create a "city album" with this LP—a record that would reflect the impressions he felt whilst touring the globe and being introduced to a range of different cultures and geography—and it's hard to imagine how he could have accomplished this without the extensive use of samples. These bits of anonymous audio allow Gold Panda to tap into worlds that would have otherwise been off-limits, or at the very least unreachable. Still, one can almost sense his respect for the sources from which he pulls these sounds. Though they may be chopped to fit a more appropriate rhythm, the samples are largely celebrated for what they are; they haven't been processed beyond the point of no return, and are instead allowed to provide a theme for each particular production. One can also hear this sort of "respect" in the fact that Gold Panda does not overdress the themes and atmospheres that the samples create, as bits of rhythm and melodic adornments are added solely to help serve the cause. It is this reluctance to interfere too much that makes tracks like the aforementioned "Flinton" and "An English House," the Dntel-esque "The Most Livable City," and sparse closer "Reprise" really work.
In the end, Gold Panda's second LP is bound to turn off some of his existing fans. There is no second-coming of "You" or "Marriage" to be heard on the record, and though its efforts are miles away from experimental, they do render the album a bit less accessible than the man's previous full-length. Despite that, Half of Where You Live is a considerably more rewarding album, one that creates lush, sophisticated, and disarmingly inviting music using the simple building blocks of sample-based beats and deeply personal musical storytelling.