April 20, 2011

Test Spins: Panda Bear

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Four years after making 12-minute loops cool again with the grandiose and dreamy Person Pitch, Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) has released Tomboy, a follow-up that provides a look at Lennox the musician as opposed to the composer. Lennox cut his teeth on the musical world as a member of Animal Collective, and both solo albums are full of the experimental quavers and drops that has come to define the Collective’s sound. This time around, however, Lennox has opted for a more conventional structure. None of Tomboy’s tracks run over seven minutes, and Lennox spends most of them showcasing his bare-boned voice, belting pitch-perfect anxieties that only sometimes get shadowed by shimmering clouds of sound.

Where Person Pitch slowly revealed its secrets and surprises, Tomboy is honestly straightforward, exchanging the swirling layers for the safety of a well-crafted, tight sound. “Last Night At The Jetty” and “Surfer’s Hymn” bounce booming bass echoes off Lennox’s bright vocals and leave it at that — the progressions and yelping harmonies are beautiful in their simplicity as they rise above a foundation of grumbling synthesizers.

Following in the footsteps of harmonic contortionist Brian Wilson, Lennox has created an album that transcends his earlier work by drawing on and implementing sounds from Gregorian chanting to the crashing ocean waves, finding the instrumental equivalents to these seemingly atonal sounds. Tomboy couldn’t elevate itself to the same level of the canonized Person Pitch, but Lennox created something beautiful by taking a different tack rather than trying to recreate his own genius. The fluidity of the album comes as a result of its accessibility, but the songs stand alone — were it not for Lennox’s haunting vocals and the reverb that melts over his tracks like butter on steak, songs like the hymnal opener “You Can Count On Me” and heart-thumping “Afterburner” could belong to different genres entirely. Rather than shake our heads at an artist unable to measure up to a previous work, Panda Bear’s Tomboy should be celebrated as evidence that the artist can grasp an entirely different style of composition and still produce a masterwork.

Original Author: Graham Corrigan