Panda Bear Panda BearTomboy
In the booklet in Panda Bear’s previous album was a list of influences that went from German minimal techno to Jamaican dub, a list that very well reflected the stylistic exuberance displayed on “Person Pitch” (2007), an album which we can now see as the starting point for a whole generation of musicians –basically the ones operating in the field of chillwave, although his influence reaches beyond that– who adopted Noah Lennox’ production techniques with superimposed layers, loops and samples, the extensive colour and emotional palette that evoke tracks that break with the traditional song format and draw maps of unexplored sonic territories. “Person Pitch” sounded like nature and city, juxtaposed with astonishing ease and made his band Animal Collective’s album, released the same year, “Strawberry Jam” pale in comparison. On “Merriweather Post Pavillion”, the group followed many of the paths opened by Panda Bear, but expectations for Noah’s new solo album grew when it became clear that “Person Pitch” was one of the most important and influential albums of the last few years.
In 2010, Panda Bear reactivated the project with a series of singles featuring new tracks, ending a few weeks ago with an Actress remix. In spite of the anticipation, those singles weren’t received as enthusiastically as expected, and maybe that’s why Panda Bear decided to recruit Sonic Boom for the final mixes of “Tomboy”. Maybe the slight deception is due to the nakedness of the record in comparison with “Person Pitch”: voice, guitar and rhythms are the fundamental elements of the album. Of course, there’s much more, especially after Boom did his thing with the tracks, but most of them happen under the surface. The result pursues the energy of rock, and Panda Bear talks about the energy of Nirvana as a source of inspiration, but his rock is of course very peculiar, which is apparent especially in the early minutes of the record, thanks to the presence of a guitar connected to a Korg, most obvious on the title track.
However, Lennox’ voice is the most important element. Mixed to the front, it doesn’t only sound more than ever like the Beach Boys, it also sounds more spiritual, both because of the kind of melodies and the production, which help his voice obtain a booming sonority, with the kind of majesty that the human voice obtains in large open spaces, like a church. Furthermore, it’s always present on the record, so it could become a bit too much on some parts.
This perceived spirituality in the way Panda Bear’s voice is used, and which can mostly be noticed on “You Can Count On Me”, “Benfica”, “Drone” and the more intimate “Sheherazade”, is the way Panda Bear transmits the confessional character of lyrics that speak of overcoming problems and doubts, accepting the wounds inflicted by life, nostalgia and growing as a person, plus the painful growing up of children. Both the music and the lyrics are reflected on the sleeve, as was the case with “Person Pitch”, and in fact, when you look at the two sleeves you can understand the difference between the two: “Tomboy” is more introverted and stylistically monochromatic.
I’m afraid “Tomboy” will get mixed reactions. It’s true that it’s not as surprising as “Person Pitch”, and that there are tracks like “Surfer’s Hymn”, “Last Night” and “Afterburner” that sound like the previous album, only they don’t reach the highpoints of “Person Pitch”. In spite of everything, all the songs are solid, with even some gems like the dub of “Slow Motion”, the oriental romanticism of “Sheherazade”, the drones of “Drone” and “Tomboy”, where the voice, guitar and hip-hop beats work best.
Returning to the inevitable, in his case, references to the Beach Boys, this album sounds more like the end of summer, showing existential concerns that have an effect on the general tone, and make it sound somewhat darker. It really is a good album, but it doesn’t provoke the feeling that the music will explode in thousands of different directions like its predecessor did.
Listen to the album here.