Fly Pan Am “Frontera”

First of all, I just want to say that it is with great pride that I find myself writing this piece for the revived Foxy Digitalis. The original Foxy D site is where I cut my teeth, grew my sonic vocabulary, and learned about so much amazing music that was bubbling up from the global sub-underground. It was in 2005 that I originally reached out to Brad and Eden expressing interest in writing for them, and here I am sixteen years later putting fingers to keyboard for Foxy Digitalis again.

In some ways, the trajectory of Fly Pan Am echoes that of Foxy D. Both endeavors underwent a temporary hiatus, only to be reborn anew. Both entities retain the spirit of the past but have incorporated new energy and focus. I’ve been following the Montreal-based Fly Pan Am since the late 1990s and always appreciated their clever playfulness when it came to genre: minimalism, funk, rock, noise, and motorik rhythms were all fodder for the band to manipulate into lengthy jams perfect for introspective listening. As they progressed, things got weirder and more awesome, kind of like how we were over at Foxy D.

Frontera is the group’s second LP since reforming in 2019 and is actually the soundtrack to a dance piece choreographed by Dana Gingras. Fly Pan Am composed the music in close collaboration with Gingras and her troupe Animals of Distinction, also based in Montreal. To accompany the fluid motion of the dancers, the band has incorporated electronics, adding a heightened sense of atmosphere to their genre-bending out-rock style. Yet the music also works in the absence of the visual element, the electronics lending a menacing touch to the proceedings.

Opening track “Grid / Wall” starts off with a blast, a medium-paced series of explosions that become an almost militaristic rhythm. Over this, the band incorporates multiple layers of guitars and electronics to create hazy sheets of full-on noise. It’s hard to pinpoint a “signature” Fly Pan Am sound, but if I was pressed on the matter, I’d have to say that “Parkour” and “Parkour 2” come the closest to achieving such a thing. With hard-driving rhythms and a wall-of-sound approach, the band is in full-on experimental rock mode. Both tracks incorporate vocals, with metal-esque screams on the former and an angelic chorus on the latter. “Fences” shares some similarity in that it also incorporates an urgent rhythm, but it relies more on electronics to get its point across.

The remaining tracks are where the band head in a more atmospheric, almost sinister direction. I can almost imagine these pieces as moments of respite for Gingras’ dancers, who were likely worked into a fervor during the more rhythmically aggressive passages. It’s unfortunate that we have to imagine what the full multi-sensory experience of Frontera could have been, but these are strange times we find ourselves in. Hopefully, as COVID winds down and live performances begin anew, this will change. Until then, the music of Fly Pan Am will stand on its own and will stand proud.

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