New Music: Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper (Album Stream)
The first album you should definitely listen to this year.
One of my cultural resolutions heading into the New Year was to listen to more albums start to finish, instead of just zoning in on hyped tracks and thrashing them. First cab off the rank is Panda Bear’s Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, and as I come to closing bars of the final track, I couldn’t have asked for a better album to confirm this was the right resolution to make. Interesting enough, nobody heard it first as a cohesive whole: in a cool marketing move, the album was premiered track-by-track on radio stations across the globe (including Sydney’s FBi).
The fifth album from Noah Lennox, the co-founder of one of the most influential alternative pop-rock acts of the 21st century, Animal Collective, was has given us a pretty damn strong album showcase in Grim Reaper, going all over the place with his beatmaking (in a good way): thematically sitting between the drippy-hippy warmth of 2007’s Person Pitch and the darker, more sombre emotional territory of 2011’s Tomboy. There’s not many albums that can traverse that much disparate musical territory and still come out trumps like this one does.
“I'd rather make a lunge for something and fall on my face than sit in a safe place where I feel like I’ve got everything figured out,” Lennox has said to FACT Mag of the album; his first solo offering since Tomboy, and you can see where he’s taken those lunges: swapping out the woozy guitars and replacing them with saturated synths and more emphasis on electronic beat work in general, with a bunch of digital sci-fi-style sound effects, and (on some tracks) throwback 90s hip hop era drum work. However, plenty of Panda Bear’s musical motifs – washed out vocals, layered harmonies, …general whoosh noises…- remain intact.
Epic, seven-minute long tracks like Come to Your Senses, which shifts and changes several time within the same track, and is driven by a distinctive, repeated warble from Lennox ('are you maad? Are you maad?') is reminiscent of the trippy beats of Merriweather Post Pavilion. While, Crossroads, one of the release’s highlights, sees Lennox chant in catchiness 'so good, so good, you’ve got it so good’ over a progression of stuttered key chords; and, along with Principe Real, is the most beat-driven work on the release. The digital sound effects come to a fore on interval numbers like Shadow of the Colossus, which has major Aphex Twin vibes, then they drop back to a quiet sizzle in tracks like Lonely Wanderer, a huge cinematic number dominated by a sweeping piano and emotive vocal line, which is like nothing we’ve heard from Lennox before. The low-key loveliness of the piano is replaced with a just-as-seductive harp in Tropic of Cancer; a meditative track that beautifully shows off Lennox’s command of melody. The trippy, dark pulsations of Boys Latin offer something different again; as does the forthright, pysch-out lead single Mr Noah (which we have previously written about HERE).
In Selfish Gene, Lennox sings ‘just now, I see it so clear/ When it sees like fates / have set it up like so much magic.’ The music world may have 'set a fate' for Lennox in boxing him into an experimental style grounded in mysticism, but The Grim Reaper reveals a different future lays on the cards for the musician: the album, with its hip-hop and contemporary electronic music grounding, is Panda Bear’s most accessible yet, and its tracks; easy for any listener to emotionally empathise with - it's a clarity that's here for all.
Above: Noah Lennox AKA Panda Bear
Stream Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper via Spotify below, purchase via iTunes HERE.