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White Noise: Panda Bear – Tomboy

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Panda Bear – Tomboy

Panda Bear could hardly have had more pressure to perform than on this release. Following the release of Animal Collective's arguable best work Merriweather Post Pavillion, his own album Person Pitch which Pitchfork rated one of the top ten albums of the decade, an Animal Collective film release, a new line of shoes... expectations were high. Perhaps this explains the almost year-long delay in the release of this LP, but all that preparation and pressure clearly paid off. In Tomboy, Panda Bear has somehow managed to pull it off all over again and has created his most accessible and triumphant work.

The album is indebted the hypnotic swirling melodies of his last LP, Person Pitch, but there is a distinct forward drive in this album, the music propels itself forward rather than unfurling slowly. This is especially apparent on some of the more dance-indebted cuts from the album. Title track Tomboy is driven forward by a brilliant guitar riff (there's a notably heavier reliance on the guitar throughout the LP, definitely part of the reason it has such drive) as Noah Lennox's distinctive reverb-drenched vocals cascade across the track. Penultimate cut Afterburner is another more propulsive track, a swirling mesh of exquisitely produced synth layers that verges on dancey. The production of the record is something you will notice time and time again, these are not the skeletal (but admirable) single releases that Lennox peppered us with throughout last year, these are massive soundscapes that reveal more and more luscious detail with every repeated spin.

The other thing that really makes this album stand out is its remarkable range. Panda Bear traverses territory from ambient drone-inspired psych, in the form of Drone or great track Scheherazade which is simply Lennox's echoey vocals wrapping their way around a single piano chord, all the way to sunny tracks with almost pop-like structures such as Friendship Bracelet or the excellent Surfer's Hymn with its skilful layering of textures as diverse as an (appropriate) sample of waves crashing ranging to wind chimes, turned into a sparkling sun-drenched anthem. In other places he demonstrates an even broader palette; Slow Motion has a J Dilla inspired combination of a cracking beat and a decayed descending synth line and is perhaps the highlight of the album, as well as Alsation Darn which has a brilliantly constructed melody and erupts into the handclaps and rhythm of some sort of psych-folk chant.

But despite all the ambition on show here and the great range of sounds, this is a distinctively coherent album, tied together both by Lennox's oddly catchy vocal melodies (which come more to the fore here than on any of his previous LPs) and the exquisite detail of the production; layers and layers of beautiful gauzy textures, and tiny things like the recurring explosion sound that announces Slow Motion's harsher sound and the similar sample that detonates the dark textures of Scheherazade into the sunny Friendship Bracelet.

The album may be considered too difficult or dense for some listeners, but if you're going to start anywhere with Panda Bear, this is a smoother, more melodic and more consistent album than any he's produced.


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