Parlour Panther isn’t afraid to explore what happens when one loosens their emotional grip and lets their freak flag fly.
What’s your sign? Mine’s Taurus. According to this site, the Uranus Retrograde currently upon us will “help [me] loosen [my] grip on life and let [my] freak flag fly.” I should also “wholeheartedly [accept my] authenticity, even if that means breaking some rules and stepping outside of [my] usual box.” I don’t typically put much stock in astrological thinking, but super queer-pop duo Parlour Panther has got me pondering higher powers lately. Retrograde, the band’s latest release, takes its name from the phenomenon of celestial bodies appearing to move backwards against the flow of everything else in the universe. Sound familiar? Predominantly written and recorded during the pandemic, it’s an album orbiting around isolation, anxiety, grief, loss, and holding on to true love that makes the most out of the backwards living we’ve all been doing over the last couple of years.
Musical and life partners Steph (Hodgins) and Lee (Newman) are Parlour Panther, enby queer spouses who record and produce their music in their home studio. Queer love and an exploration of identity have always been at the core of their music, but throw an unexpected global health crisis and imposed isolation into the mix and Parlour Panther’s already gritty, anthemic synthy pop songs take on a whole new spin. Retrograde is populated with souls struggling to make connections. Opener “Hi-Lo” asks of a lover, “Do you see me / All of me / Or just the parts / That you wann see?” It’s a question and concern that’s been bouncing around in my head for months now. Like the song’s protagonist, my partner and I have had to ride our fair share of each other’s highs and lows while locked in isolation. “Faded & Happy” romanticizes those bygone days of yore when we were all free to “get high and dance close” in a club or at an outdoor festival, set to a slow, steady daydream groove. A few songs later, though, Parlour Panther concede that dreams aren’t always the end-all-and-be-all. “I had a dream / I got everything I wanted,” go the opening lines of “Everything I Wanted,” “It’s not what you’d think / And if I’m being honest / It might have been a nightmare.” Happiness comes in the form of something (in this case, someone) more tangible: “But when I wake up / I see you with me / And you say as long as I’m here no one can hurt you.”
Musically speaking, “Everything I Wanted” is indicative of Parlour Panther’s ease and skill at building radio-ready pop songs with solid narrative arcs and deeply felt emotional life. Sure, the soft-pop shuffle of closer “The End” isn’t exactly a fairytale ending that puts a nice bow on the proceeding record, but that’s life. Parlour Panther knows that the key to surviving isn’t settling down but persevering through the highs and lows. In that regard, Retrograde easily sits alongside two other queer-adjacent pop records — Tegan and Sara’s Heartthrob and Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual — that aren’t afraid to explore what happens when one loosens their emotional grip and lets their freak flag fly. Far from being a backward step of any kind, Retrograde is a massive leap forward for a pair of keen songwriters and musical performers ready to kick self-isolation, fear, and anxiety in the proverbial Uranus.