In the past few years Panda Bear has helped set the bar of progressive American indie at a seemingly unattainable height. And now, whenever a slightly leftfield artist releases new material, they do so knowing that the music press will appreciate their admirable endeavour to appear unique and exciting, but their hard work will never quite match up to the herculean efforts of Animal Collective. Like Radiohead in Britain, Animal Collective are the musical equivalent of Usain Bolt; ostensibly effortless in their pursuit of excellence and, despite the best efforts of those around them, always ahead of the competition. And just like those athletes at the very top of their game will tell you, the greatest opponent you’ll ever encounter is yourself.
In 2007 Panda Bear, aka Noah Lennox, exceeded all expectations with the release of Person Pitch and subsequently became a prophet for artists looking to compose daring and innovative music in a simple fashion; the bedroom was no longer a restricted recording space but instead became the perfect domicile to construct music that was both meditative and entirely personal. The next album was always going to be Panda Bear’s toughest challenge. Thankfully, Tomboy doesn’t disappoint.
Panda Bear doesn’t drastically alter the formula which made Person Pitch a much revered and idiosyncratic masterpiece; peculiar vocal styling, instrumentation soaked in reverb and challenging yet playful compositions which smacks of sunshine. Lennox had claimed in previous interviews that Tomboy would be mainly inspired by a more traditional “guitar and rhythm” approach, a methodology most obvious in the galloping rhythm of the album’s title-track, but don’t approach this record expecting a punk/garage-rock record. Panda Bear still implements the use of synths and samples, only this time the songs are more concise and conventional in their structure, there isn’t a track which alters its shape as drastically as ‘Bros’ or ‘Good Girl/Carrots’. In fact, not many of the songs on show here exceed the five-minute mark.
Tomboy is a much noisier album than Person Pitch, the textures are far richer and the whole package is glossier as a result. Album opener ‘You Can Count On Me’, ‘Slow Motion’ and ‘Last Night At The Jetty’ are delectable examples of the albums optimistic, child-like buoyancy. The vocal melodies are uniquely oddball, delivered with Lennox’s trademark hollering, and the layered vocal harmonies give the songs further cheerfulness. ‘Tomboy’ and ‘Drone’ delight in repetitiveness, the latter being a hypnotic collection of humming synths and Lennox’s elongated mantra-style chanting. The songs are dense with sound, yet not once does the production seem bloated; this album certainly possesses the breezy aura of summer.
Those hoping to find Panda Bear in darker spirits will enjoy ‘Sheherezade’, a sparse number with eerie looping piano chords and a swelling, boggy bass which accompany Noah’s dissonant vocal lament. However, the final few songs leave you in no doubt that this album caries, much like Noah’s previous work, a positive yet pensive message. ‘Afterburner’ and ‘Benfica’ close the album, the former begins with a tropical dance beat and retains its groove throughout the entire seven minutes, allowing choppy guitar loops to be layered on top, mesmerising the listener and transporting you to a psychedelic beach party of sorts.
‘Benfica’ finishes the album with the mantra of a man who always aspires to produce more daring and exciting material as time goes on: “Some might say that/To win’s not all that it’s about… But there is nothing more true/Or natural than wanting to win/There’s nothing more to life”. Not ‘winning’ in some weird masochistic Charlie Sheen kind of way, but by claiming that pride is no sin and that humankind strives to win in its instinctive struggle to survive.
If we are judge Tomboy by Panda Bear’s ridiculously high standards then this album is admittedly not as good as Person Pitch but a true triumph nonetheless. Songs like ‘Last Night At The Jetty’ and ‘Alsatian Darn’ will go down as some of the best songs he’s ever recorded either alone or with Animal Collective. This album further solidifies the unique sound and style that Panda Bear has developed and can now rightly call his own, and although Tomboy may not be as exhilarating or stimulating as Person Pitch was on its release, he still finds himself miles ahead of the chasing pack.
Released on 11th April 2011 courtesy of Paw Tracks