Artist: Panda Bear
Title: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Release Date: January 9, 2015
Label: Domino Recording Company
When I think of how to characterize Noah Lennox’s music, I think of the word emergence, in its philosophical context: “a process whereby larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties.”
Within and without heavyweight experimental outfit Animal Collective, Lennox has found a distinct voice in how he builds and develops songs in unorthodox ways that sidestep the deceiving simplicity of his ideas, using detailed soundscapes and his trademark cascading vocal lines to goosebump-inducing effect. His new release Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is no exception. On “Boys Latin,” for example, an ode to his childhood school, his vocal line has no inherent musical value- it’s only three notes, but placed against an undulating synth line, bouncing between both sides of the mix in an ongoing call-and-response game, the song creates an immersive depth.
Forgoing the swampy, dark ambience of his last release Tomboy and the cohesive, sample-heavy approach of Person Pitch, (his best work, in my opinion) Lennox’s new album is a more organic, bright sounding brand of endearing weirdness that may be his most emotionally far-reaching solo effort. “Mr. Noah” is the closest Lennox has ever gotten to an all out rocker: a gritty, hard charging song that samples a barking dog, while elsewhere “Tropic of Cancer” and “Lonely Wanderer” are hazy trips deep into his mesmerizing pop universe, where worries and responsibilities float by like distant fluffy clouds.
Lyrically, Lennox has never been explicit, always favoring things that have a subjective and noninvasive quality, inviting the listener to look inward for meaning. When he purposefully fails to define his pronouns, he reminds us, “Only you can fill those spaces.” Another artist might not be able to get away with the repetition his songs rely on both lyrically and musically, but Panda Bear has a unique gift for making repetition an asset: being hypnotizing and not boring even when he draws songs out to considerable lengths. It takes a patient person to get through an entire Panda Bear record, but that makes it all the more gratifying and memorable for those of us willing to take the plunge and turn off our brains for a while.
Though Grim Reaper might not be a huge step forward or wild stylistic departure within Lennox’s catalog, it’s colorful, well produced, diverse, and overall his most enjoyable project since 2009’s groundbreaking Merriweather Post Pavilion. I would argue that today’s temporal, speed-obsessed world needs artists like Panda Bear who dedicate themselves to the art of hypnosis and by creative design invite us to stop what we’re doing, look up at the sky, consider our smallness, and take a deep breath. When the Grim Reaper stares you down, “laugh it off as if it’s no big deal.”