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Handling the Pressure
For indie-rock fans, especially those with a fondness for polyrhythms, Panda Bear is the boss and 2007’s Person Pitch is practically the Bible. Despite a mountain of anticipation Noah Lennox, founding member of fellow polyrhythmatists Animal Collective, managed to knock it out of the park on Tomboy. Leaning less on found sound here, he’s crafted 50 minutes of varied vibes across 11 songs heavier on guitar, organ drones, and percussive miscellanea. It’s paid off: The critical world has enveloped Tomboy in heaps of praise and positivity; it’s a solid record, no doubt, especially the singles.
The first half of the record is the stronger half. It includes the title track we heard as a single almost a year ago, its rickety yet natural organ roll leading nicely into Lennox’ chant-like delivery. One of the things Tomboy nails is how we don’t necessarily need to care about lyrics. In fact, some of these songs are pretty much indecipherable; they’re all about the aura of the groove. These are songs that you can put on, not listen to very closely, and enjoy the rhythms, the pace, flow and energy without singing along.
Second single and album opener “You Can Count on Me” is a bit more personal and lyrical. The herky-jerky bass drum and minimal instrumentation make it less catchy yet still impressive. It’s the next two singles, “Last Night at the Jetty” and “Surfer’s Hymn,” that really drive home the gravity of this record for listeners.
“Last Night” has a rollicking, simple beat accented by a solid handclap, and Lennox manages to work in the “good time” lyric he’s been fond of throughout his catalog. The bouncy organ-based bridge and rounds of looped vocals are textbook Panda Bear. “Hymn” is a little more out there, and does indeed incorporate splashing surf sounds. What sets it apart from the rest of the record is the presence of a maniacal keyboard part that builds as Lennox’ Gregorian chant climaxes.
There are strong songs like “Alsatian Darn” or “Friendship Bracelet” that manage to save the back end of Tomboy. We suppose half of the album’s tracks working is no failure for a heavily-watched and much-anticipated follow-up to one of the 2000s’ biggest indie records.