Genre: Experimental/Psychedelic Pop
Origin: Baltimore, Maryland
Panda Bear's Tomboy is without a doubt one of the most anticipated albums to come out this year. Panda Bear - whose alias is that of Noah Lennox - is high and mighty off the heels of the major success as a member of Animal Collective and their recent masterpiece Merriweather Post Pavilion, and he released one of the most intriguing and surprising debut solo albums of the last few years, Person Pitch. There's reason for us as listeners to be both excited and worried, for his new album is to be met with high expectation and possible scrutiny. In anticipation, we were given what he decided to do as he did with Person Pitch and release a number of singles that would later be featured on the album. Surely this satisfied the hunger of fans as it did myself, but by listening to more than half of the album before its release were we really going to feel the same or feel cheated come April?
The answer is both "yes" and "no." With the help of final mixing by Sonic Boom, the singles that are heard on the album not only sound different, but they also find the molding that makes the songs feel like the parts of a sum. I'm not really sure I could have expected any less from him, but rest assured that, given the now, more subdued instrumentals and upfront effects that sort of loft and bounce around, Panda Bear finds the right mental notes that get you swirling from start to finish. Having said that, Tomboy does not feel like the grand spectacle that Person Pitch had, and in essence the singles do not cross over as anything new. This doesn't exactly hurt what the album is thematically speaking, as Person Pitch was the fancifully free and childish album and Tomboy is the album of growth and change, but it does not take the opportunity in some spots to take a completely fresh approach and make it as powerful as it tries to sound.
"You Can Count On Me" doesn't let up in starting the album on a good note, with a very echo-y beat that maintains itself throughout. The title track is much more dramatic, forcing the sounds to penetrate the surface to become much more pronounced and murky. It's also what feels like the most repetitious on the album, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. "Slow Motion" was great as a single, but in it's final form here, the sounds are again pronounced yet it still feels as fresh as it did earlier. The beat is sweetly slow and Noah so reverberated that it takes you up to the point where you feel wrapped up in a comfy warm blanket, even if the sounds themselves aren't so pretty.
"Surfer's Hymn" provides something shimmery and light, almost like something that I would probably find on Person Pitch but without the same grandeur. It's at this point on the album (Track 4) that I begin to notice that I'm really loving the sounds, but nothing here actually stands out or comes off as epic as it makes it out to be. It's all nicely knit when it comes to "Last Night At The Jetty" which takes its time letting the sounds master themselves, but even then do I notice that being lofty doesn't fully make it swing. That goes for "Drone" as well, with ambience that could be taken as either meditative or downright annoying.
Don't think that these songs are bad, though. They are very well composed and beautifully constructed, as in the case of "Alsatian Darn" and "Scheherazade". They feel like the tracks that sort of take the album into a much subtler route, giving the album some breathing room in such a sound-heavy environment. It really isn't until the final third of the album that Panda Bear gives us a greater scale of approaches with songs "Friendship Bracelet" and "Afterburner". "Benfica" is also beautifully arranged, even though it may not particularly serve as an establishing closer.
There's no doubt that Panda Bear has had a lot up his sleeve and that the product that is Tomboy is clearly a directional path for the artist. It's only slightly disappointing that, having heard the first half of the album and having some expectation, that the entirety of the album then finds a kind of sameness to it. This should not be a hinderance, however, in that Panda Bear really does create wonderful soundscapes that turn us inside out and all over. It takes a certain number of listens to really try and appreciate the depths that Tomboy reaches, and it's within the finer moments of the album that will give you the sense of grandeur that Panda Bear can muster.
Panda Bear - "Slow Motion"
Panda Bear - "Alsatian Darn"
Tomboy is available on the Paw Tracks record label on April 12th.