Panda Bear

Photos by Brian DeRan

Video: “Slow Motion” + Interview + Live at Governor’s Island

Video: “Alsation Darn” Video by Dave Fischer and Ara Peterson

Listen: “Last Night At The Jetty on Mistletone Soundcloud

Tomboy is out now on Mistletone Records / Inertia and available on mail order.

  • “Swirling, intoxicating and dense” – SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
  • “Lennox returns to claim his throne as king of the washed-out beach” – THE BIG ISSUE (4 stars)
  • “A surprisingly cohesive side project that fans will be all over” – MUSIC AUSTRALIA GUIDE (4.5 stars)
  • “Brightly coloured rhythms and hum-along melodies” – THE SUNDAY AGE (4 stars)
  • “Utterly compelling” – RAVE MAGAZINE (4.5 stars)
  • Best Album of the Month – VICE
  • “Awestruck aural vistas of exploration and adventure” – TIME OFF
  • “Panda Bear has achieved a kind of sonic perfection on this record” – THE BRAG (4 stars)
  • “Calls ‘win’ on the bedroom copycats by being bigger, weirder and warmer” – INPRESS
  • “Sweet, soft, dreamy vocals, Beach Boys melodies and a lovely loping moment in song. It makes me feel all woozy” – ZAN ROWE, TRIPLE J
  • “Tomboy stands on its own, as intricately interesting as its predecessors” – SYN FM ALBUM OF THE WEEK
  • “Precisely composed & executed, Tomboy plays like an eternal sunrise” – TWO THOUSAND

BOTH AS A MEMBER OF ANIMAL COLLECTIVE and as the solo artist Panda Bear, Noah Lennox spent the aughts helping redefine the aesthetics and methodology of experimental and independent music. With work ranging from splayed but lyrical noise, florid acoustic arrangements, and guitar-centric psychedelia, he and his bandmates have covered a vast musical territory that blurs the line between pop and experimentalism. But while Panda Bear and Animal Collective have garnered acclaim with each successive sonic venture, their music really started to take hold when they began working with electronics.

The milestone Person Pitch (Mistletone, 2007) was a mélange of loopy samples, ethereal textures, and dubby echoesall bound together by his soulful tenor. Hailed by many as an instant classic, the album’s influence was almost immediately recognisable. He continued work with Animal Collective, releasing another landmark album Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2009.

While the interval since Person Pitch has seen plenty of work from the Animal Collective camp, Panda Bear activity has been rare. He has toured sparingly, done intermittent remix work, and appeared on a few peers’ releases while rumors circulated about his next full-length, Tomboy. The second half of 2010 saw the record’s first offerings: a string of 7″s containing tracks from the album, each released on a different label, which have revealed Tomboy’s palette while helping Lennox gauge his progress and focus on individual songs.

Recorded at his studio in Lisbon, Tomboy sees Lennox stepping away from the sample-based parameters of his previous record and incorporating more guitar and synthesizer. Still prevalent, though, is the interest in texture that made Person Pitch such a dense record; crashing waves and cheering crowds bounce against the gurgling arpeggios and give the tracks an immense sense of space. Soaked in reverb and punctuated with inflections of delay, the album’s drums reveal a dub influence which gives them a visceral punch that lingers after each hit. Lennox’s lofty, self-harmonizing vocals smooth out the songs, and Sonic Boom’s mixing gives the work a large dynamic range.

With Tomboy, Lennox has created a more plaintive atmosphere, but in accordance with the conflicting image of its title, the highs of the album balance out its lows. The record, massive in its span of emotion, genre, and sound, is the welcome return of one of the most prolific and consistent audio pioneers in recent memory.


Panda Bear Bio:

Panda Bear (a/k/a Noah Lennox of Animal Collective) is about to release his fourth full-length album, Tomboy. To say the disc is highly-anticipated would be a slight understatement. After the crowning glory of his previous solo album, 2007’s Person Pitch (which not only topped Pitchfork’s Album of the Year charts but also ranked in the top ten of their Albums of the Decade), Panda Bear reconvened his Animal Collective brethren and followed it up with 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, which also found its rightful place atop innumerable magazine and blog polls come year’s end.

Through it all, Lennox has remained resilient in following his singular vision and voice. “I’ve definitely traversed some kind of mind field the last year or so and it hasn’t always been pleasant or easy,” Lennox says. “But it’s been more a positive irritant than anything else.” Tomboy proves, above all else, that he’s risen to the challenge and surpassed (as well as sidestepped) all expectations. And in following up Person Pitch, Panda Bear has again taken to releasing the album as a batch of separate singles first, for labels like Kompakt, Fat Cat, Paw Tracks, and Domino. “Doing the singles helps me focus on every song and also helps me move along in the process.”

Also part of the process was moving past the gear that informed the dense sonic tapestries of Person Pitch and MPP: “I got tired of the severe parameters of using samplers. Thinking about Nirvana and the White Stripes got me into the idea of doing something with a heavy focus on guitar and rhythm.” Favoring a darker, more-streamlined sound on Tomboy, Lennox went for a more visceral and direct approach, though that rock tendency was offset by another old influence on Lennox: “I’m definitely reliving middle school and all the Baltimore R&B radio we used to ingest.”

It lends itself to the paradox of the title itself. Lennox explains: “A lot of the songs are about something that’s in conflict with itself, so the image of a ‘tomboy’ has become the overseeing figure as far as the group of songs go.” It might even exemplify the conflict of Panda Bear himself: underground and experimental in his approach to sound, he also strives to craft gorgeous pop for the widest audience possible. With Tomboy, he’s attained his greatest balance between the two extremes yet.

The Big Issue review (4 stars):

Animal Collective boy-wonder Panda Bear —fringey 32-year-old Noah Lennox— authored an unexpectedly influential LP with 2007’s Person Pitch; his mix of watery electronics, reverb-riddled Beach Boys vocals, and hazy summery nostalgia inspiring not just imitators, but an entire new genre, chillwave. Four years on, with Animal Collective having gone from cult act to festival behemoth in the interim, Lennox returns to claim his throne as king of the washed-out beach. Tomboy even boasts a jam named Surfers Hymn, where dizzying, hyper-speed electronic blips are a babbling ocean behind the echoey chants and island-ish hand percussion. This, here, is essentially Lennox’s working-way: dense slatherings of strange sounds (decaying tape, fried digital glitches, saw-tooth synth buzzes) fused into songform, then turned into pop by his loud, layered-on voice. The long-form trance-outs of Person Pitch are gone, but there’s shorter, more forceful works that live up to past greatness: You Can Count On Me Lennox’s devotional valentine to his daughter; Alsatian Darn self-critical confession turned into an anthem; Last Night At The Jetty a lament in warped, tape-wobbling Brian Wilson-isms.

Rave magazine review (4.5 stars):

Tomboy is the fourth solo LP from Animal Collective member Noah Lennox, following on from 2007’s sublime Person Pitch. The string of limited 7-inch singles released in the lead-up to Tomboy make up the first half of the album. The album versions of these tracks are much more fully realised, with production treatment from Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom (AKA Peter Kember). Even seemingly minimal tracks such as hymn-like opener You Can Count On Me are richly textured. Slow Motion and the title track find Lennox trying out more focussed, beat-driven pop structures, some distance away from the hazy sampling and Beach Boys-oriented pop of Person Pitch. Alsatian Darn is one of the album’s finest moments, dropping unexpectedly into a powerful second phase where Lennox sings in circles “Say can I make a bad mistake / Say what it is I want to say to you.” Scheherezade is simultaneously gorgeous and chilling, a wintry soundscape populated by Lennox’s voice and isolated piano notes. Friendship Bracelet doesn’t quite find traction, but those missing the hypnotic jams of Person Pitch will be sated by the pulsing Afterburner. Tomboy doesn’t particularly cater to expectations. You won’t find the sunny, acoustic brilliance of Person Pitch and you certainly won’t find anything like My Girls or Brothersport, but Lennox’s unique vocal style and unassuming songwriting remain utterly compelling. Panda Bear continues to forge his own path and it continues to be a wonderful path to follow.

The Brag review (4 stars):

Back in 2007, Person Pitch – Panda Bear’s third solo record and big sloppy hug to the world – won accolades aplenty, while steering the band from which he was moonlighting (a little thing called Animal Collective) onto the sampler-laden trajectory that produced the exploding star highlight of 2009, Merriweather Post Pavilion. Panda Bear has a new album now. It’s called Tomboy. It’s very, very good.

Gone are the samples and random snippets that punctuated Person Pitch; the haphazard-collage-of-sonic-elements kind of approach is ditched, supplanted by lushly-rendered monolithic blocs of vividly shimmering texture. Similarly, the DJ and techno influences that riddled his previous album (particularly its sprawling centrepiece ‘Bros’) have been submerged within the pop structure that defined the songs of Merriweather Post Pavilion.

But Tomboy is certainly not Merriweather MK II; Panda Bear, AKA Noah Lennox, squeezes an extraordinary range of sounds out of his machinery, forsaking the samplers in favour of a simpler trick; playing his guitar through a synth module. ‘You Can Count On Me’, a message from father to newborn son, provides an intimately heartstring-tugging prelude, before the record is kicked off in earnest with the thundering anthem of ‘Tomboy’. A regal air is struck with the leisurely stroll along the promenade of ‘Last Night At The Jetty’, while a soft climax is reached with the wind chime-laden dirge ‘Scheherazade’, in which Lennox’ tendency towards minimalism reaches its apex with gently lulling style.

Panda Bear has achieved a kind of sonic perfection on this record. The oft-made comparison to Brian Wilson has never seemed more apt, with his opulent sound achieved through an apparent compulsion to create Phil Spector-ish levels of production flawlessness.

Oliver Downes

Panda Bear portrait by Maureen Gubia

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