Saturday, April 30, 2011

Panda Bear- Tomboy

Panda Bear's Person Pitch wasn't just another album. It has that intangible special-ness that separates the great albums from the masterpieces, albums that not only make year end lists and 'best of decade' lists, but also—and perhaps most crucially—personal lists of favorite albums by both fans and critics.Panda Bear's much anticipated new album, Tomboy, will likely make many lists for best of 2011 even though I don't think it will be as beloved and embraced as Pitch was. I will still be thinking about, listening to, and recommending Person Pitch for decades to come; Tomboy, perhaps not as much.

Whereas Pitch felt like something special, one of those once in a lifetime records that will go down in history, Tomboy is, let's say, more of a 'normal' album. It's excellent music yet it lacks that utterly unique sound and special-ness that made Pitch such an immediate and lasting delight. First things first, though:Tomboy is not a sequel to Person Pitch. Secondly, you can rest assured that, even though all but one of the tracks he's released on 7” singles leading up toTomboy's release appear on it, too, they have different enough mixing, sonic elements either brought to the fore or pushed to the background, that you won't feel fleeced. They're the same songs following the same structure, true, but 'Surfer's Hymn', for instance, is much improved on the album, sounding less electronic and claustrophobic, the extra set of buried vocals excised entirely.

Lastly, Tomboy follows in the pattern of fellow Animal Collective member Avey Tare's 2010 solo release, Down There, in that it's a surprisingly dark record. Whereas Down There was going for a “hellish swamp” vibe according to Tare, following his divorce as it did, Tomboy feels more insular and inner-troubled. During the record's latter half, I get a mental image of Panda Bear sitting alone in a basement studio with no windows, particularly during 'Scheherezade' and its looming, cinematic piano chords. Hell, the extreme reverb he uses on his voice during this track makes it sound like he's stuck inside a well.

Or hiding in a cave. It seems the man who once admonished listeners that he didn't want us to take pills anymore may still be struggling with unnamed internal issues. In fact, the general theme of Tomboy seems to be about pulling back and focusing on yourself and the ones you love. Ironically, then,Tomboy is more listener friendly and inviting than Person Pitch. The melodies and hooks come frequently and in intriguing ways on the album's first half, including one of his most impressive vocals ever on the soaring 'Last Night At The Jetty.' As said before, this album is also more 'normal' than Person Pitchwhich further adds to the listener-friendly-ness, by which I mean, the songs are shorter and self-contained. Nothing here is as slow burn-y and trance inducing as Pitch centerpieces 'Bros' and 'Good Girl/Carrots', and nothing is as unique and indescribable as 'I'm Not' or 'Comfy In Nautica.' Yet for all the talk ofTomboy being a more guitar oriented album, this descriptor proved as accurate as Radiohead's claim that Amnesiac would be more of a guitar album than Kid A. It was, to a degree, but very little on this record sounds much like guitars as used by most rock bands, even by Radiohead in fact, other than the one on the title track. Rather the guitar is employed as another textural tool in Panda Bear's arsenal and ends up making the music sound more mechanical—that is to say, programmed and sampled and looped and tinkered with via computers—than the organic sounding Person Pitch.

With this in mind, the best touchstone for Tomboy is the stuff Bradford Cox of Deerhunter has been doing as Atlas Sound, that kind of “solo artist but using lots of guitar pedals and electronics to fill out his sound” sort of thing. Indeed, Panda Bear guested on the last Atlas Sound album, and if you took the vocals away, I could see Atlas Sound producing something like 'Alsatian Darn.' Still, only Panda Bear could pull off these vocals, and only he would have the guts to follow a buoyant pop song like 'Last Night At The Jetty' with what is ostensibly the album's most dissonant track, the aptly named 'Drone', which I recall being more abrasive on the 7” single version. Anyway, if Panda Bear wanted to shake the notion that he's the 'pop' member of Animal Collective while Avey Tare is the 'noise/experimental' guy, I guess he should've made an album more like Down There.

Or even Danse Manatee.

Not that I think he really cares about such a perception, since he's clearly too busy recording, touring, spending time with his family, and/or doing drugs to have time to worry about such things. What's more, whatever darkness crept into Tomboy isn't likely to last. Though not as special as Person Pitch, this record is a must-hear; though not as bright as Person Pitch, this record still ends with the impression of having come through darkness rather than leaving us still stuck in it. The final redemptive washes of 'Benfica' fade away like the pervasive crashing-waves sounds heard throughout the album, and Panda Bear gets up to leave his basement studio, ready to start the long wait til his next batch of music begins to form. What am I most looking forward to from him next? A new Jane album, obviously.

5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

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