Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Better Late Than Never Reviews: Tomboy - Panda Bear

Timing is everything.

Such is the lesson learned upon listening to Tomboy, the fourth studio album by Noah Lennox, one-third of the indie pop group Animal Collective. Four years ago, Lennox created Person Pitch, a collection of borderline chants that melded Brian Wilson-era sonics and vocals with looped instrumentation and samples, turning Pitchfork on its ear and pretty much creating its own (much aped) musical genre. Then, in 2009, he went back into the studio with Animal Collective. When the band emerged, it had the unquestioned album of the year and perhaps one of the best of the first decade of the 21st Century, a piece of work called Merriweather Post Pavillion. Listen to songs like "My Girls," "Also Frightened," and "Brother Sport," and you will hear sounds that seem utterly foreign yet strangely familiar. In other words, the group combined their singular sonic perspective with elements of pop and songcraft to create something utterly phenomenal.

Now here comes Tomboy. Way more dependent on electronic instrumentation than its author's predecessor (not necessarily a bad thing), maybe the piece would have been groundbreaking if released in 2007. However, coming upon the heels of MPP, it seems a bit small and, in the end, a tad bit disappointing.

There certainly are high points. The title track is a surging monster, driven by a magnetic synth line and Lennox's patented, hypnotic chant-like vocals. "Last Night at the Jetty" is also a treat thanks to playful percussion, a squiggly guitar line, and an attention-grabbing chorus. The labirynthine "Afterburner" is also an album highlight, but I will single out "Scheherezade" for extra props for two reasons: 1) its odd minimalist structure, creating an eerie, chilled out, yet arresting, vibe and 2) because typing its name will serve as a beneficial spelling lesson.

Still, there are parts of the album that just feel "samey." It's true that Lennox's particular mien depends on the acceptance of repetitive rhythms, but songs like "Friendship Bracelet" (ughh to the title unless it is a joke on the title of Mariah Carey's next album) and "Alsatian Darn" don't really lend themselves to repeated listening. The album closer "Benefica" does the album no favors as it is the biggest lowlight and closes the piece on a blah note, and the song "Drone?" Well, at least it is truth in advertising.

After helping to create one of the musical landmarks of the last ten years, Noah Lennox deserved to make the album he wanted to create as the solo Panda Bear. He has gotten it out of his system, and unfortunately it is a bit of a mixed bag, with really lofty highs and lows that might make you hit the "Skip" button. Feel free to check out the best stuff, and hope for new Animal Collective swiftly upon the proverbial hour.

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