I find myself returning to the ‘new’ Panda Bear album again and again – it’s kind of rolled around my soul for the last month or two or three. There’s something euphoric and utterly bleak about it at the same time. It’s all that cracked beauty that’s getting me – you getting me? I’m not sure how I arrived at Panda Bear – it was through a chance encounter with Animal Collective possibly or a mention in Mojo (oh no) about Person Pitch that probably got me started.
It was either Bros or Comfy in Nautica that did it.
I love that cacophonous sound of digital and analogue breaking down and spinning round and round with reverb drenched falsetto like a future Wilson brother hooked up to Detroit and trance. I still have a whole heap of equipment lodged around the house and in various buildings – old synths, drum machines, 8 track recorders, echo units, drum machines, sequencers and laptops with part finished songs and unfinished beats. I sometimes think I might set it all up and record an opus – you know Wilson meets Detroit.
But Panda Bear got there first. Oh he was way out in front.
I don’t listen to as much electronica as I used to. There’s not much room in the day for beats and bleeps when you’ve the madness of young minds running rings round mine. As I said most of the time electronica is confined to solo car journeys – but I can sneak Panda Bear in on the pretext that the kids love The Beach Boys.
So what to say of Panda Bear meets the Grim Reaper – a title already intriguing –like a hallucinatory dub album with dark over(under) tones. Now hear this! Noah Lennox, a.k.a. Panda Bear, a.k.a. one-fourth of the founding members of Animal Collective, sees it like this, ‘[as] more comic-booky, a little more lighthearted,” he says. “Like Alien Vs. Predator.”
It has that sci-fi/ lo-fi - oh why appeal. Within the ‘soup’ there are ever morphing sounds and feels – cycles and loops – textures and tones coursing throughout the whole thing. It was made with the collaborative soul of aka Pete Kember (everyone’s got an aka these days) Sonic Boom. A sonic alchemist from way back when who blended psychotropic drugs with paeans to the almighty channelled through electrical velocity, hum and drone.
What’s strange is that this wholly unique and striking long player is ripped from the heart of those sample packs available for all to use. But it takes a sense of the unknown to transform them beyond the usual and make it unusual, “I got into the idea of taking something that felt kind of common — the opposite of unique — and trying to translate that into something that felt impossible,” he says. The textures for the album came together everywhere from El Paso, Texas, to a garage by the beach near his home in Lisbon, Portugal, where he has lived with his family since 2004. I‘ve put a couple of these stretched out electronic psyche numbers on a compilation for the kids (my kids – that’s who I’m doing it for) and it’s clearly Mr Noah that gets us all going – all nonsense shout outs and something like a ‘big chip on her leg’ – well that’s what we sing.
It’s electronica sending out viruses to infect the brain.
(won – won – won) Wonderful.
I’m not in the mood for a full review – I just need to get back to writing somehow – somewhere – but I want to put down a few thoughts about ‘Tropic of Cancer’.
“Some of the songs address a big change, or a big transformation,” And here is the central song about death. That’s the one I keep returning to (it’s on the kids compilation – we sing it together – maaaaaan.) It’s truly heart breaking – truly heart breaking – with its repetitive sample of harp from The Nutcracker Suite and utter openness about the devastation of losing someone ( you won’t come back – you can’t come back – you won’t come back to it) “It’s sort of marking change — not necessarily an absolute death, but the ending of something, and hopefully the beginning of something else.” All somewhere over the rainbow - but it's a place you don't want to go. Saying that I always felt that song had a sinister edge. A little too much 'survivor soul' in it.
I know Noah keeps on getting compared to Brian Wilson – but you can trace it right back through his Panda Bear work – introspective – open – real. Tropic of Cancer is ‘In my Room’ – an honesty so much missed in this calculating unforgiving modern austere times (perhaps I wasn’t made for these times and nor was Noah) There’s fragility in his words and harmonies that sink into the psyche – it gnaws away at you – like his subject matter. And he couples this with genuine psychedelia – colouring sound and song in modern ‘far out’ ways.
Panda Bear meets The Grim Reaper and comes out on top. It’s a wonderful long player from a wonderful talent.
You know Wilson’s getting on – Noah’s still young. Let’s book some time for him at Ocean Way Recording, Hollywood.