Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Panda Bear, "Tomboy"

This album is streaming on NPR's website until next week. Its release date is finally in sight after several months of delays, and the availability of some of these tracks in various forms (e.g. singles and live recordings -- there is a fairly well-circulated recording from a gig in Berlin on 15-01-2010 that features a number of "Tomboy" tracks) has not dulled the anticipation of finally hearing the finished product.

This is one of those albums where you can learn a lot by looking at the track titles and track times, especially in comparison to "Person Pitch". There are no epic track lengths, no titles with slashes (/) in them (suggesting a song with multiple parts), no two minute song snippets. In contrast, most songs on "Tomboy" are around three or four minutes long. Yes, it's supposed to be a pop record.

At first, I was disappointed that there was nothing even close to a jam on this record, perhaps with the exception of "Afterburner", which is the longest track here. There are no spots where the album strays toward something odd and unpredictable like the breakdown midway through "Bros". The songs that immediately grabbed me were the most anti-pop of the bunch, like the aptly named "Drone".

But "Tomboy" grew on me quickly. In retrospect, the connection between early 90's Spectrum and Panda Bear is so obvious, I can't believe I didn't hear it before. Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember's mixing contributions are subtle -- a bit more echo here, a bit more embellishment on this wobbly synth note there. Panda Bear's sound tends more toward the abrasive, minimalist pop side of Spectrum (think "How You Satisfy Me") and S3's "Recurring" (think "Big City"), although there's also a touch of the drone-y side of soul that Sonic perfected on "Highs, Lows, and Heavenly Blows". These elements are clearly audible if you're listening for them, but if you're not, then don't worry because "Tomboy" is instantly recognizable as Panda Bear. A more vocal heavy, could almost be radio friendly version of Panda Bear if it weren't for the miles of reverb and deliberately lo-fi blare of beats and alien noises.

Or maybe you'd prefer NPR's description of how "Lennox pushes the limits of his sequencers and synthesizers, twisting samples into coils of reverby reckoning". "Reverby reckoning" not only sounds ridiculous, but it implies a frightful, threatening type of music, which I'm not hearing but could imagine someone hearing if aided by the right hallucinogenics after the layers of harmony rattle around in your head for a while and you think you're hearing shrill voices over the Gorillaz backed by cheap and noisy synths. Hmmm ... maybe NPR was onto something ...

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