Pander Sera is an instrumentalist, producer and audiovisual artist based out of Los Angeles. Sean Draper began Pander Sera as a one-person bedroom experimental project before crafting her sound into something that could be performed live. Her compositions are heavily centered on the drums, her primary instrument. Thrown into the mix are looped vocal layerings and an oscillator, which she distorts to create tastefully-dissonant textures. Draper performs all of this simultaneously.
The album was recorded at LA’s Mateo Sound, the studio she helped start up with her friends. With her juxtaposition of whimsical melodies and abrasive walls of sound, she conveys themes of depression, independence, and gender dysphoria. The catalyst for Bothy’s creation happened in 2012 after her long time friend’s tragic suicide.
Permeating throughout Bothy is the concept of home. To explore this topic, Draper injects audio samples of her own childhood home. These include clips from family videos as well as field recordings taken in her neighbourhood. Opening track “Get Busted” sets the scene with sounds from nature serving as an eerie introduction. Muted vocals sift on top of her metallic electronics. A cymbal-heavy drum pattern clashes with everything else to a disorienting effect. Seamlessly flowing into the next track, Draper’s pop sensibilities shine through on “Reset”. Her playful melodies are reminiscent of Dan Deacon. With looping effects, she staggers lines on top of one another for some distorted harmonies.
The album is pieced together by three interludes for continuity’s sake. The first one, “Stare”, is reminiscent of a horror movie score – a dark ambient piece with ghostly vocals in the backdrop. For the first few seconds of “Barren”, children can be faintly heard. With its swirling electronics, this second interlude is more playful than the last. Later, “Gulch” offers a cavernous piece of music. Vocal samples are buried underneath a droning oscillator.
“No Eye Deer” is the most sinister track on the album. While it is the darkest cut on the record, it is also the most suitable for a dance floor. The deconstructed beats filter through digitalised distortion. Draper’s minor key melodies are swallowed up by a piercing loop of feedback and static. She seemingly wants to lose herself in a moment of ecstasy, but her inner demons hinder her path in the end. “Can you still remember fun, or did you lost it in the stitches?” she ponders.
Tiptoeing the line of pop’s escapism and harsh noise’s nihilism and depravity, Pander Sera is able to coexist with the good and the bad of her childhood nostalgia. This is prominent on the endearing “11 Months”. A love song and a moment of solace, it’s a good respite for an otherwise abstract and challenging listen. With layered vocals, she experiences a euphoric moment with a partner outside of time and space. “Where is the sun? All I know is it’s a good time to be with you.” The song is pushed forward by a steadily-building kick.
“Gazebo” is the clear single and the best encapsulation of the artistic vision behind Pander Sera. A life-affirming melody is combined over dissonant and abrasive soundscapes, which is the main appeal behind Draper’s music. It is pure fun on an album that only teases that feeling for most of its runtime. Its bouncy drum and electronic pattern gradually disintegrates until its pieces become indiscernible by the end.
“Mascot” is the most stripped-down and minimalist piece here. A simple swelling oscillator motif envelops the listener. It is a gorgeous intro. Her clanging drums and screeching electronic play still interject at times, but they are much less pronounced throughout. Even with the challenges Pander Sera has recently faced, she is still able to find moments of serenity and personal solace: “a mind supposed to feel comfort from a broken landscape.”
“Thorn” wraps things up and gives cohesiveness to the record, as its onslaught of sounds recalls the opening track. The electronics give a squelching undercurrent. It is a pleasant piece of mind-altering pop.
According to Draper, Bothy references a shelter outside of one’s permanent residence, one found in the wilderness. While the childhood audio samples suggest a stationary definition of home, the sounds she creates hint at something more transient. Though sometimes Pander Sera’s influences weigh heavily on her sleeve – strains of Panda Bear’s psychedelia and the aforementioned Dan Deacon are not hard to notice – Draper is able to come through with a promising and explorative debut record.
At times this project is too comfortable in the middle between sticky melodies and its menacing noise elements, not leaning into either enough to truly captivate. Still, at its best moments, Bothy is an unpredictably curious and intriguing record seeing Draper showcase her introspection outwards.