This Temporary Life

Love and rock are fickle things

REVIEW: Panda Bear – Tomboy May 31, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — TemporaryLife @ 12:51 am
"You can count on me."

*atonal yelping*

Person Pitch dropped in 2007 and, rightfully, left the field altered drastically. I was getting into (terribly written) journalism at the time, and a friend of mine teamed up to write an End of the Year list, and we agreed that Animal Collective dominated the field, having just released the mind-expanding Strawberry Jam as well. The opening of his review for Person Pitch is still fresh in my mind, because it was far too on-the-money to fade from memory: “The album is Smile if Brian Wilson had made it while he was crazy.” The album was a lush and vital trip into the inner psyche of Noah Lennox, and it was a beautiful ride. I’ve seen him perform “Comfy In Nautica” twice (once with Animal Collective, once solo), and both times have caused me to dissolve into hysterics. The song still gives me goosebumps spurned on by ecstatic fervor.

Tomboy is a long time coming, and is possibly the perfect opposite of Person Pitch in a lot of ways. It leaves behind the intense sprawl of Person Pitch and the clearly Person Pitch influenced Merriweather Post Pavilion, in favor of more insular soundscapes, which is an interesting change. The focus is clearly on Lennox’s own voice here, which is okay: his voice has always been captivating, and what made the more experimental Animal Collective tracks listenable (purists, lower your torches and pitchforks, please). There, his voice bled seamlessly into the fold, meaning you were more able to accept it at the same sonic level as everything else. Here, though, it’s so much more pronounced, even though the words he’s singing scarcely come through as much more than syllabic yelping of the most serene order, unless you’re paying close attention. The effect is that most of the songs end up as a chillwave Rorschach test, allowing you to discern on your own what the hell he’s actually singing about in any given song.

One thing that really feels different is everything behind Lennox, though. Gone are the organic beats of yesteryear, abandoned in favor of strangely infectious, but nonetheless urban beats. This is a record that feels like the beach town along the west coast: a bizarrely comforting clash of nature vs. mankind. “Last Night On The Jetty” stomps along with clapping beats, feeling like a particularly effective exercise in combining a hip-hop banger with a surfer anthem, where “Drone” is, essentially, just that: Lennox singing monk-like over an almost completely unchanging note. The former is true of a lot of the songs on Tomboy, and in the hands of less capable musicians, it would turn out, more or less, like shit. But Lennox is one of the unsung kings of homegrown synth, which is most of the reason the indie community has stayed firmly attached to a band who, more or less, are absolutely fucking crazy to the point of being somewhat unlistenable (in their earlier days, at least; disagreements are hereby given “Indian Dressing Table” as a rebuttal).

Since Strawberry Jam (arguably since the poppy murmurs of Feels), though, Lennox and David Portner (aka Avey Tare) have tried to make their music, dare I say it, catchy. And it has always worked, and Tomboy gives us some of the most head-noddingly joyous ear-worms since “Fireworks”: The title track’s three chord dirge, newly beefed up for the record, plods along for nearly five minutes, and absolutely never overstays its welcome, where the Biggie-Smalls-meets-Dirty-Projectors stomp of “Slow Motion” will give you a neck ache from bobbing your head so much, if you aren’t careful. The same is true of the gorgeous deeper cut “Alsatian Darn,” arguably the best song on the record, and the best use of handclaps in a pop song I’ve heard this year.

The worst thing about releasing a record like Person Pitch is that, if you keep making music after making a game-changer, every record you record will inevitably be compared to that record (see: the paragraphs above this one). People will always say, “Is it as good as…?” “I liked… better.” It’s unfortunate, because it always means that the follow-ups to those great records are often overlooked because they aren’t quite as good. But don’t overlook Tomboy. It’s undeniable that it isn’t Person Pitch, but that’s not something you should hold against it. For what it’s worth, it’s every bit as moving as its predecessor.

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