On their debut album Volcano … Bloody Volcano, Hot Panda sounded like the sort of band that loves pop music, but thinks it's more fun to mess with it a little than to play it straight. Apparently, Hot Panda enjoyed this approach enough that they decided to mess with it a lot more on album number two, and How Come I'm Dead? takes their music significantly deeper into the twilight zone than before. How Come I'm Dead? opens with the dire and droning "Membership Fees (Intro)," whose languid repeated melody is punctuated by horns and naïve guitars, while the snappy uptempo twist of the next tune, "Evil Nature," is punctuated by shards of guitar noise like Thurston Moore hasn't unleashed in a decade. "Fuck Shit Up" sounds like a polite variation on the themes of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, with a sassy Darby Crash impersonator on lead vocals, and "1995" could pass for a vintage funk single played at 78 rpm if you weren't paying close attention. And the faux siren that refuses to resolve itself on "Poor Little Ambulance" will make most folks wonder where the rescue squad is headed. The willful eccentricities of How Come I'm Dead? take up enough space that on first listen, it's easy to overlook just how good Hot Panda are when they're in the mood to write a solid tune; the slightly garage-y pout of "Shoot Your Horse" is delightful; "Start Making Sense" is a canny and effective interpretation of the sort of indie rock/guitar rocker that's Yo La Tengo's stock in trade; "Pools" is an exercise in dance-friendly pop that's spirited and charming, and the atmospheric waft of "Late Night Calling (Outro)" could be stretched out significantly longer without losing its impact. Hot Panda are better being a great little indie pop band than a great little art-damaged indie pop band, but even when they get a bit pretentious, How Come I'm Dead? is effective enough that these folks manage to have it both ways.