Under Review: Panda Bear – Tomboy

For a band to follow up a breakthrough album is enough of a challenge. For Noah Lennox, the stakes are much, much higher. His most recent contribution was to Merriweather Post Pavilion, the 2009 masterstroke from acclaimed freakshow Animal Collective. Lennox’s songs on the album streamlined the sprawling vision from Person Pitch, his last solo effort as Panda Bear. That record’s epic campfire shamble drew heavily from the sun-bleached pop of the psychedelic era as well as the trademark oddness of Animal Collective’s various branches.

On Tomboy, Lennox’s long-awaited fourth LP, he twists and turns through ambient, dance, gospel and world music while remaining uniquely himself throughout. For better or worse, no other artist could get away with making an album like Tomboy, especially since about half of the album’s tracks were released as pre-mixed demos over the past year. Despite the relatively minor tweaks that have been made to the final versions of these songs, they end up sounding invitingly familiar rather than overplayed. It was an unconventional journey leading up to Tomboy’s release, for sure, but convention is not something that Lennox or any of his cohorts have catered to.

Tomboy is divided in such a way that, even on CD or mp3, the different side of the record is quite distinct. First is the pop side, which features most of the A-Sides of the preceding singles. Swirling opener “You Can Count On Me” chants its title like a mantra and serves as an alluring overture. From there, the album’s a nonstop procession of mind-boggling sounds and rhythms. The buzz and clatter of the title track, the twinkling “Surfers Hymn” and the measured “Slow Motion” are each stockpiles of ethereal wonder. Each track compliments the tracks around it, with “Drone” serving as a transition into the record’s less immediate back half.

It’s not that Lennox has buried the weaker material on Tomboy, but the five songs after “Drone” take a little longer to “come out from [their] shell” than the five before, to paraphrase a line in “Alsatian Darn.” Of the second side, the strongest composition is “Afterburner,” Tomboy’s longest track. Perhaps influenced by the culture of his adoptive home of Portugal, Lennox has crafted a vibrant and celebratory feeling in the tune. As his vocals float above the joyous rhythms, Lennox juxtaposes the organic street percussion with synthesized washes of distortion. The blend of real and artificial, jubilant and somber, naïve and worldly; they’re cornerstones of Panda Bear’s music and make for a captivating listen. “It’s not too late/To keep it real,” Lennox promises on “Afterburner,” and he couldn’t be more right.

~ by E. on April 20, 2011.

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