11.04.2011, Words by Charlie Jones


The third track on Panda Bear’s ‘Tomboy’, Slow Motion, starts so well. A stark dub echo shimmers like the Jamaican breeze, a two-note keyboard line played underwater hits, and Noah Lennox’s massive, unmistakable voice grandly booms. The problem is the ideas run out about halfway through – there’s just a loop and a stumble to a halt. It’s far from unpleasant, but one expects a little more from him than ‘not bad’.

It’s a pretty great summing up of the record – Panda Bear, the man behind one of the most important albums of the last decade, ‘Person Pitch’, and one of the most important bands, Animal Collective, is a gifted musician. And on his fourth solo album, it sounds really nice, he’s confident in his abilities, and has lots of radical ideas to feed into his music. The problem is that he doesn’t really do much with them besides meander.

Of course, this meandering is something important to the music of Panda Bear and by extension, Animal Collective. For all their very justified acclaim, it’s hard to think of a genuinely spotless album they’ve made apart from ‘Merriweather…’ – their genius was always combining perfect structure with the more divergent aspects of experimental music. And this album is full of brilliant chance encounters – a flash of primordial dubstep on Last Night At The Jetty, the sensual starkness of the Doors-meet-Branca in Indochina track Sheherezade, the iridescent twitchiness of Friendship Bracelet. It’s just a pity these moments don’t lead anywhere.

Lost, somehow, is the thrill, the sheer ambition that made ‘Person Pitch’ such a brilliant record. There’s something starker about these songs, a stripped-down aesthetic that extends from the sonic palate to the black and white artwork. This is interesting considering the behind-the-scenes stories – recorded in his new homeland Portugal (he moved to Lisbon to be with his wife Fernanda Pereira), ‘Tomboy’ has been pushed back months and months, with several singles on different labels around the world – hardly suggest merciless focus.

Rather, it seems like he’s branching out, not satisfied to stick to a formula, though satisfied to rest a while, develop as a ‘proper artist’, one with things like themes and periods and let others handle that whole ‘re-inventing pop music’ thing. There’s a pleasing elder-statesman vibe to the lyrics, from the advice-giving opening lines of Slow Motion – “So they say practice makes you perfect / So they say you can’t teach an old dog / Everyone knows what they always say / [But] It’s what they don’t say / That’s what counts” – to titles like You Can Count On Me with his first lyric “I am out here for you” to “When there are hard times, I’ll step it up” on Surfer’s Hymn.

It’s a father-figure album. He has influenced, employed and put out a huge number of a great artists (from Ariel Pink to Toro Y Moi to Zomby), has a place in the canon already paid for and released some of the best music of our era. Now, he’s offering sturdiness, on an album that never really goes above decent.


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