Panda Bear releases a new type of beast
Matt McMahon | Monday, January 19, 2015
“Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper” opens in familiar Noah Lennox — the chief presence behind the Panda Bear pseudonym — territory. A breezy synth and trickling aqueous effects accompany Lennox’s layered, climbing harmonies for a welcoming introduction in “Sequential Circuits.” Never one to rest on his prior conventions, though, Lennox quickly subverts his form with an oscillating, guttural vocal outro, resembling throat singing or possibly a faint didgeridoo.
These world music tinges heavily permeate “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper,” Lennox’s fifth album released under the Panda Bear moniker, which he first established with Animal Collective’s other co-founding member Avey Tare. Appropriately, a week and a half before releasing the album, the human sample encyclopedia that is Panda Bear launched a nine-day global radio campaign to debut the remaining nine radio-length tracks that had not been released as singles around the world.
“Lonely Wanderer,” a gentle piano-centered track premiered on NPR’s “All Songs Considered” — smartly so given NPR’s taste for the intelligent electronic productions of artists like Aphex Twin that the track embraces. The waltzy ballad “Tropic of Cancer” aired in Australia, although it could have felt at home in Asia or Romanticist Europe, constructed around a calm scaling harp sample that, tellingly, comes from “The Nutcracker” suite. Just as much, “Sequential Circuits” could have come out of the Oceania, having more in common with the area’s sound and Lennox’s last venture there in Animal Collective’s “Lion In A Coma.”
Meanwhile, lead single “Mr. Noah,” with its vague boom-bap drums and deep, resonating synth, found its place in the United States among similarly well-received hip-hop tracks; the extended intro, with piercing synths and gravelly whiny shrieks, recalls the Mass Appeal project “Old English,” and the later, fully-formed synthline channels Vince Staples’s “Blue Suede.” Coming on the tails of “Mr. Noah,” the second single, “Boys Latin,” features comparable elements, with Panda Bear’s distinct West Coast harmonizing and ethereal, indecipherable vocals.
Yet, with his expanding catalogue, Panda Bear takes as much influence from his past output as he does from his expansive index of others’. Most immediately, the neo-psychedelic elements ever present in his work take on a competitive air considering his Animal Collective co-conspirator’s own side project, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks’s 2014 “Enter the Slasher House,” which “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper” bests in its attempts to create haunted carnival melodies. Then there is Panda Bear and producer Sonic Boom’s (Spacemen 3) employment of radio transmission samples, previously heard on Animal Collective’s most recent radio-centric concept album “Centipede Hz.”
Most notably, though, Panda Bear takes directly from himself and expounds upon it by melding his brilliant experimental tendencies from his last masterpiece, 2007’s genre-creating “Person Pitch,” with 2011’s more lyrically and vocally minded “Tomboy.” Structured as completely singular ideas strung together by seamless mimicked radio transmission effects, “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper” is a structural departure from the always evolving “Person Pitch.” By incorporating the upfront vocal production and clearer lyricism of “Tomboy,” the new album is a new type of beast. Panda Bear experiments on a song-to-song basis, separating his variability into lone-standing chunks. Each track takes one sonic premise and stretches it to its limit. As a result, “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper” tackles more conceptually and does so beautifully across the aggressive and suppressed songs, alike. Despite not eclipsing “Person Pitch,” Panda Bear comes as close as non-humanly possible to in “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper,” while undertaking an equally challenging project.
Songs: “Boys Latin,” “Mr. Noah,” “Lonely Wanderer”
Listen To If You Like: Animal Collective, Jagwar Ma, Washed Out