Album Review: Double Naught Spy Car’s “Panorama City” Toys with Space Time Continuum

panorama cityFor the last two-and-one-half years, Double Naught Spy Car’s Western Violence (2012) has been the soundtrack for my neurotic Los Angeles existence. Teeming with talent and creativity, the instrumental, psychedelic, surf noir band has twisted the boundaries of musical conformity, time and space like a pretzel. The band’s deftness with genre experimentation, effortlessly moving from spaghetti western to big band swing to post-Bitches Brew fusion, sometimes in the same song, defies categorization. Lush lap steel guitar conjures a Carl Stalling, Esquivel sense of fantasy. The work of these four master musicians has a narcotic potency that creates a surreal space for listeners suggestive of another world. Double Naught Spy Car and Los Angeles, a megalopolis of extreme contradiction in constant flux, are best enjoyed together. Western Violence accurately captures Los Angeles’ struggles, triumphs and blurred senses. 

Instrumental music has an intrinsic purity:  there is no space for narcissistic, misogynistic, overtly political lyrics or banal “baby, baby, baby” drool to detract. In this context, Spy Car songs with titles like jan michael vincent (from Comb in Blue Water), Marina Del Hayride (from Danger High), and Halliburton Snowboard, Don Martin Shoes, or Feral Kitty (all from Western Violence) beg meaning and understanding, providing listeners a broad canvas for their own interpretation. Other songs like Elysian Park Forever leave more clues. Journey to the Center of Guitar Center is a bold statement that does not equivocate. These guys are clever. An unsuspecting audience might never realize that Double Naught Spy Car is toying with them with playful, subversive intention during live performances. Stunts like reading vapid excerpts from Don Felder’s autobiography during guitar tuning in between songs demonstrate this tendency. Double Naught Spy Car is one of the world’s most interesting bands.

Going back 13 years, Panorama City, the band’s latest release, is the distillation of a 2002 recording session with Silver Lake music luminary Stew (Mark Stewart), founder of the eclectic pop band The Negro Problem who later found fame as creator of the rock musical Passing Strange. Using funds awarded by a competitive grant from the American Composers Forum, the band + Stew locked themselves in a warehouse deep in a blighted San Fernando Valley suburb for three days of improvised recording with Stew serving as lyricist and vocalist. All of the tracks, one approaching 30-minutes-long, were spontaneous, recorded on first take and significantly edited down to three to six minute bites.

Stew’s lyrical and vocal contributions make this concept work. The opening track Chat Noir, a story of militant gardeners of Los Angles torch-bearing bohemian lifestyles at Paris’ 19th century Le Chat Noir (all made possible via trans-Atlantic Concorde flight), could not paint a more bizarre or optimistic scenario. Sweet Jackie’s Revenge is a tortured excursion through the anxious mind of a fictitious Jackson family artist not appreciated by her famous brothers. Presidents is a good old bluesy romp using clever Watergate metaphors in a playful plea for a woman’s romantic affection. Whether Stew’s expressions are nonsensical or provide a glimpse into the subconscious of a Tony award winner, Panorama City works on the same level as the band’s previous and future recordings, engaging listeners in a surreal experience. The album’s outtakes, which comprise 19 songs totaling 221 minutes, create a context for greater appreciation of Panorama City’s ambition and the band’s collaboration with Stew.

Panorama City is a fascinating time capsule and an appropriate stepping stone to Double Naught Spy Car’s upcoming 2016 release Guitars of California, with guest axe-slingers Nels Cline, Mike Watt, Joe Gore, Joe Baiza, Joey Santiago, Elvis Kuehn (Fidlar), Ben Vaughn, Woody Aplanalp, and many more.

Panorama City is available on CD and download from and download from and iTunes. The CD will be in record stores April 14. The entire unedited recording session can be downloaded for free from the band’s website.

Double Naught Spy Car will be celebrating the release of Panorama City with a performance at Taix 321 Lounge on Friday, April 24.

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Left to Right: Stew (Mark Stewart) + Double Naught Spy Car- Joe Berardi (drums), Paul Lacques (guitar, lap steel guitar), Marc Doten (bass), and Marcus Watkins (guitar)

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One Response to Album Review: Double Naught Spy Car’s “Panorama City” Toys with Space Time Continuum

  1. I always thought this band was called Double Naughty Spy Car

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