This band have been moonlighting all over the shop: bassist Yatim Halimi and new guitarist Dave Foster with the Steve Rothery Band; drummer Gavin Griffiths, Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards with Fish. So what a pleasant and impressive surprise that they can land us with a stripped down, semi-acoustic revisioning of some of their best loved songs, hot on the heels of last year’s Incarnate.
The live shows that they squeezed in earlier in the year and more recently this autumn have highlighted the band’s soulful new reinterpretation of their past material, which has been led by a Kickstarter campaign set up to fund Essence.
The elements that make up Panic Room are of course here in full colour. After all, 10 of the album’s 12 tracks we’ve heard before, albeit in a fully-electric guise, and there’s still a sense that this Welsh outfit have a solid grasp on the full scope of their expertise, still channelling that soft kaleidoscope of jazziness but giving it a sumptuous bluesy vibe in a pin-drop setting. Take Firefly for example: on their debut, Visionary Position, it sways with grace and positivity, however in its stripped back incarnation there’s a subtle sorrow. Likewise Black Noise, originally heard on 2010’s Satellite, takes on a deliciously film-noir personality, evoking the thought of smoky jazz clubs, its protagonist crooning under a sharp spotlight. Elsewhere this new-found sexiness oozes from new song Denial, while their other new addition, Rain and Tears And Burgundy, brims with glistening calm.
The band and songs sound fresher than you’d ever expect.
Nearly a decade into their career (following Helder, Griffiths and Edwards’ departure from Karnataka), Panic Room create a sound that flickers with assurance. Seeing them live, the sheer skill of each musician is obvious – though they’ve never been ones for ostentatious gimmicks or displays of self-importance. What is so comforting about Essence is that it purely and perfectly encapsulates the unpretentious assembly of this very talented personnel.
Foster was announced as lead guitarist in May, and while his role is not immediately obvious his tone strikes through on Promises, cutting through the acoustic gauze (and remember this set is semi-acoustic), while on Black Noise – an undulating take on Satellite’s rocky number – his clean jam has the space to breathe.
Flirting with a bit of honky tonk piano, Jon Edwards also takes pleasing advantage of the sonic respite afforded by this unplugged setting, and Helder offers her suave lyrical turns to the mix. Yet ultimately what shines through the most is the band’s tight collaborative effort, making this reworked collection of songs sound fresher than you’d ever expect.