To say josh pan is an enigmatic character would be a gross understatement; he’s a force of nature that can’t be predicted or subdued, and certainly no one could’ve guessed his first full-length project would be a hyper-atmospheric, cowboy-themed indie-tronic pop album co-written with one of the most boldly weird pop producers around. Together with his co-writer, collaborator, and unwitting therapist Dylan Brady, the 11 songs that comprise This Car Needs Some Wheels were born. The album itself, which josh says stylistically represents a culmination of every non-electronic musical influence in his life from Kanye West to James Blake, is definitely a concept piece. Instead of trying to describe its magic, may we suggest putting on the album while you read this? I’m listening to it on vinyl right now for the first time.
Every single song is completely unexpected, all very different from one another, and yet they go together in this rather mystical way. Dylan’s productions are psychedelic sonic landscapes of sprawling, haunting proportions and I’m so glad I waited to hear this album through the warm, popping lo-fi of the record player. From the album’s opener and lead single “Wheels,” with a music video that finds a man digging until he reaches himself as an old man at the bottom, we’re pulled into this stark, billowing soundscape blooming with wildly intricate vibrancy.
There are also very simple, stripped-down songs like “Many Moons,” written on a day when josh was heartbroken and unmotivated but Dylan insisted they write just one. “That song is something I wouldn’t normally write, lyrically or musically,” josh explains in his soft, hypnotically monotone voice. It reveals such a sad, raw side of himself, and then he does it to us again on the next song “Past Lives,” teeming with rich vocal harmonies and the occasional squealing guitar. Somewhere around “Supersonic,” halfway through the album, I feel like I’m starting to recognize the hope blowing through these strange and rather timeless songs. It comes through what feels like a decimated landscape, surging with bursts of humanity. “Revolution” seems to come like a bat out of hell with the vibe of a Tarantino film’s theme song, followed by my personal favorite, the hushed ballad known as “Devil By My Side.”
“I was self-medicating a lot during this time, really depressed, and towards the end of writing the album, I realized I could be happy, that I don’t just have to hide in myself, and that I could totally depend on and trust other people again,” josh says. “The imagery in the ‘Wheels’ video of the guy digging the hole, the whole album process was me digging deep into myself and realizing what’s important and what makes me happy I already knew a long time ago.”
When asked what the process was like from Dylan’s vantage point, he explained, “Collaborating with josh was and continues to be a very unique experience for me. When we made this album, we did not really talk about making an album. We did not really talk about sonic or lyrical themes. We did not play any reference tracks. Most sessions with other people in my experience are much more guided in one direction or another. With josh, we just kind of felt it out along the way; it always feels like we are on the same page.” The album listening experience is so cohesive it feels magical, and knowing the unspoken nature of its origins makes This Car Needs Some Wheels all the more compelling of a mystery to unravel.
“We were kind of searching for an album name subtly for a few sessions,” Dylan went on to say, “but when we were recording ‘Wheels’ most of the song had been recorded but josh went in to do a few more background vocals. I am not sure if he wrote it down or not but at the very end when the vocals stopped, he sang ‘This car needs some wheels, this car needs some wheels’ and I instantly knew it was the title. It had to be.”
“The concept of digging your own hole and the car with no wheels, I was thinking about the world,” josh says. “Right now I think the world is a car without wheels, I feel like the people running things don’t know what direction to take the world in and I think everyone’s really scared. I think it’s up to artists, to anyone with any influence at all, to at least calm each other.” Sonically, the album is rather calming and certainly hopeful, but cracks of earnestness cut through the lonely despair of the album’s ending on “Save The World,” which absolutely feels like a final plea to both himself and the human race as a whole to calm down and get it together before it’s too late.
There’s only one featured artist on the album, Lewis Grant, who appears on both the final song and “Brain.” The Los Angeles-based singer is a regular collaborator of Dylan’s and has a voice that adds another layer of humanity and dreamlike volatility to the last portion of the album. If you’re not already listening to it, hopefully reading this has inspired you to do so. An organic, essentially accidental concept album is a special thing indeed, but coming from two predominantly electronic music producers with big personalities, potent creative visions, and very different styles, it’s even more of an anomaly. I feel like we’re so lucky this album exists at all and that it came together the way it did — it deserves to be honored with a start-to-finish listen and the chance to let your imagination run wild to these songs.
A special thanks to josh and Dylan for letting us in on a few of the many secrets this album contains. If you’re not playing it already, do yourself a favor and jump into This Car Needs Some Wheels at once.