Panophobia was first defined by French psychologist Theodule-Armand Ribot as a state in which “anxiety, instead of being riveted on one object, floats as in a dream.” On their new EP, Atlanta sisters Kathryn, Annika, Fiona and Petra Von Grey explore Ribot’s theories with six songs that cover a wide range of topics, from personal loss and broken relationships to the inexplicable fears for which the record is titled.
Bands often believe stylistic changes between albums are greater than those changes are in reality. Panophobia however, is miles apart from previous Von Grey releases. In particular, 2014’s Awakening was a much more organic affair, loaded with acoustic elements and Americana flair. The new EP flips their previous work on its head, replacing bluegrass melodies with ethereal synthesizers and EDM elements as if the group have entered a new musical dimension.
The classically-trained sisters have been playing music and collaborating since childhood which is evident in the care taken in the placement of each individual note on Panophobia. As they looked to develop their sound and scope for the recording, Von Grey turned to producer Dan Hannon (Manchester Orchestra), who helped them explore new directions within a comfortable environment. In some ways the poppy elements combined with razor sharp musicianship lend comparisons to Florence and the Machine, but the spaciousness of Von Grey’s music is better compared to Zola Jesus, especially since the group has the capability of making dark themes transcendent to the point of inspiration. In either case, these sisters are in good company as they traverse diverse sounds and emotions throughout the record.
One of the EP’s core strengths is the way in which each of the tracks emits a distinct identity while still fitting into the narrative of the whole. Between the cascading synths and echoing violin of “Cyclical Dreams,” Von Grey interpret the EP’s title as an emotional drowning. However, “Forever Bound” stands out as the strongest track, capturing the passion for which the band is known while displaying their evolution to a more ethereal sound. The minimal percussion combined with the lead guitar’s siren sound amplify the cosmic imagery and make the song heartbreaking but engaging.
The movement away from the acoustic rooted sound was a bold move for Von Grey, and it remains to be seen whether longtime fans of the band will embrace the changes of the new EP. However, with so much talent, it would have been impossible for the group to continue retreading their acoustic past. Despite the drastic change, the skill of these sisters allow them to deliver the six tracks as if they have been writing experimental electronica for years, and is evidence that Von Grey will have many more ideas to share in the future.