Sunday, 10 April 2011

Album Review: Panda Bear - Tomboy

This review will feature in the April edition of Notion Magazine

For all the wild exaltation heaped on neo-psych savants Animal Collective, it seems the most dedicated of discerning musos have found greater kindred spirit in Panda Bear, the solo side project of AC founder-member Noah Lennox. Scene-screening blogs Tiny Mix Tapes and Gorilla vs. Bear both picked the last Panda Bear record, 2007’s Person Pitch, as their best of the decade. Pitchfork placed it eighth – a full six places above its more illustrious cousin, Merriweather Post Pavilion. Early, and erroneous, whispers of a chillwave godfather spurred the record on, while the woozy adventures across borderless meter and time kept it on heavy rotation from East London to East Village.

However, those expecting Tomboy to ape the gurgling atoll-pop of Person Pitch may well fall off their Fixie bikes. Rather than floating a pedalo off a Pacific shore, this time the good ship Panda Bear has been anchored, with Lennox finding his feet on more concrete musical ground. Lead single ‘Tomboy’, which emerged last July, served early notice of a change of direction. Rolling dub-rhythms provided new rhythmic ballast. Huge riffing slabs of guitar – something Lennox attributes to “thinking about Nirvana and the White Stripes” – replaced the clicks, whirs and keys of yore. And while the multi-tracked tribal vocal attack remained, the spears had been sharpened. This was experimental music with songform, designed for the dancehalls, not the bedroom.

It’s not an exception that proves the rule. Experimental producer par excellence Sonic Boom (formerly of Spacemen 3) shows himself either to be a genius of reinvention or utterly superfluous to the recording process – having helmed the diffusion of MGMT’s clipped electro-pop into one big lysergic meander last year, here his mix performs the opposite trick. Tomboy contains 11 tracks, and ‘songs’ abound – great, soaring, bombastic ones, superabundant with killer hooks.

Only a late run of ambient numbers, starting with the sore-thumb shimmer-sprawl of ‘Scheheradze’, break rank. Juxtaposed with breathless, intelligible pop singles like ‘You Can Count On Me’ and ‘Surfer Hymn’, the wobbly stuff falls flat. Poppiest, and best, is the superb ‘Last Night At The Jetty’ – which twists the disposable afro-prep whimsy of Vampire Weekend into something at once bouncing and brash, yet suffused with glassy-eyed regret. “Didn’t we have a good time?” sigh a thousand Lennox’s in undulating unison. Aren’t we now? 


Choice Cuts: Last Night At The Jetty; You Can Count On Me

Tomboy is released 11 April on Paw Tracks 

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