The World of Panda Bear
Animal Collective’s Panda Bear has released a new album, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper – his first solo release since 2011’s Tomboy. This record is inviting yet alien, soothing yet confrontational, mellow yet driving. The trick that Panda Bear manages to pull off is making the record feel cohesive while exploring distinct and opposing sounds. More than creating a set of songs or an album, Panda Bear manages to build a musical world on this record.
Within the first thirty seconds of the first track, it is clear that Mr. Lennox has crafted a deep and engrossing sonic landscape for the listener. “Sequential Circuits” opens with shimmering psychedelic and chorus drenched vocals in three-part harmony layered over an organ line, and what sounds like a recording of a babbling brook. By the time the track ends, the listener feels as if they’ve crossed a threshold and fully entered into the world of the artist.
This leads into the jarring intro to “Mr. Noah” which combines distorted dog howls with a pulsing synthesizer screech that can only be compared to the Helvetica Scenario sound affect from TV’s Look Around You. This atonal mishmash gives way to a driving drum loop and what sounds like a heavily distorted and effected guitar. Feathered into the background are well delivered yet completely unintelligible vocals.
The lyrics, however, are the only point where Panda Bear falls flat. First, they are almost impossible to discern without the aid of a lyric sheet; once you have the words written out in front of you it is somewhat possible to make them out. It’s the aural equivalent of squinting your eyes to sharpen an object on the horizon. It is best to only appreciate the vocals for their musical aspect and nothing else.
With this in mind, “Boy’s Latin” is one of the high points of the record. The lyrics are absolute tripe but the presentation is, musically, top notch. The vocal line is reminiscent of medieval monastic music and the thick reverb gives it that added pinch of cathedral ambience. Underneath the vocals is a bed of pulsing synth bass. Listening to this track on a sound system or headphones with good low-end response is a must.
The only song that gives “Boy’s Latin” a run for it’s money as best track on this album is “Tropic of Cancer.” It has the same amazing vocal work, but rather than having the backing track being grungy and driving, “Tropic of Cancer” is built on top of a heavenly harp loop. It is a truly transcendent piece of music.
Other songs that aren’t to be missed from this record are “Come to Your Senses,” “Lonely Wanderer,” and “Selfish Gene.” They span a wide range of musical territory from gritty to floating, yet they manage to exist within and build up the musical world that Panda Bear has created.
Sit back, turn up the volume, enjoy the record, and experience Panda Bear’s world.