Release Date: Feb 8, 2019
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
When working with Animal Collective, the exuberant Noah Lennox surrenders to the spirit of collaboration. But when he's working solo as Panda Bear, his music honors the state of aloneness. That word describes how his music as Panda Bear is created (typically written, played, and sung by Lennox), performed (Panda Bear shows usually feature Lennox by himself, standing before a mixing board and microphone, with a guitar around his neck), and experienced.
The more time that passes since the heyday of Animal Collective, the harder it is to believe that they were once the high royalty of US indie music. What untraceable chain of events parachuted their acid-tinged, torn and frayed, polyrhythmic mutant-pop to the late-Noughties mountain top? It has been the subject of some recent debate, with the decade anniversary of Merriweather Post Pavilion recently passing, but nevertheless it is safe to declare that the 2010s zeitgeist has been far less susceptible to their mysterious allure. As this decade now begins to draw to a close itself, Panda Bear offers his most minimal form of psych experimentalism so far.
Over the course of 20 years of work, Noah Lennox cultivated a musical identity that was unmistakably his own. Under the name Panda Bear, Lennox pushed boundaries with both the colorfully saturated sample collages of his 2007 solo album, Person Pitch, and the psychedelic tangle of electronics and warped guitars on Animal Collective's 2009 watershed, Merriweather Post Pavilion. These were definitive albums for both Lennox and independent music-making at large, and he continued to look for new angles on his maxed-out sounds with successive albums.
What type of music has Noah Lennox not made? Between his discography with Animal Collective and a steady stream of solo work as Panda Bear, Lennox, the Lisbon, Portugal-via-Baltimore avant-gardist has covered and furthermore bolstered a patchwork of ambient, neo-psychedelia, experimental chamber-pop, and bedroom-pop, the latter not as much a formal genre but a phenomenon Lennox laboriously contributed to over the past two decades. Lennox's resulting discography is some of the most outlandish and disorientingly catchy pop music to enter and eventually leave the "indie" sphere: Lennox mastered sparse, guitar-heavy bedroom-pop with 2004's Young Prayer, distant, orchestral chamber-pop on 2007's Person Pitch, spacey electronics on 2011's Tomboy, and pristine electro-pop on 2015's Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. Buoys, Lennox's latest full-length album as Panda Bear, sounds as if each predecessor of his has been boiled down into one singular, cohesive masterwork that frequently incorporates a mosaic compositional structure, utilizing the chaotic cut and paste methods Lennox popularized on Young Prayer and the otherness of Person Pitch— entirely singular arrangements with a foundation that can't help but sound catchy.
The Lowdown: For Buoys, Noah Lennox's sixth solo album as Panda Bear, he decided to slow things down. Reunited with producer and longtime collaborator Rusty Santos on their first Panda Bear record together since Person Pitch, Lennox made it a goal to explore modern methods of recording and production in his current home of Lisbon. Beginning with a sketch of vocals, guitar, and simple arrangements, he built off those using Auto-Tune and other elements of rap production to expand his sound.
Noah Lennox put out his first record as Panda Bear in 1998, years before he debuted with Animal Collective, but the Panda Bear we know wouldn't take shape till almost a decade later. In 2007, after moving to Lisbon, getting married and having a child, Lennox released Person Pitch, an album of loopy psychedelic pop that embodied a surprising number of the influences listed in its liner notes. That record was a blueprint for everything that's come since.
With his new record, Noah Lennox says he "hoped to translate the new songs into music that might, if only at the surface, feel familiar to a young person's ears". This might come across a bit, "How do you do, fellow kids?!" but with Lennox things are usually more nuanced. On 'Buoys' - his sixth solo record as Panda Bear - there's the addition of autotune and a vague hip-hop bent which lends an iridescence to his now-familiar modus operandi.
N oah Lennox, whether on his own as Panda Bear or with his Brooklyn band Animal Collective, has a knack for meshing lustrous electronics into densely textured, hallucinatory scenerios, aided by his brightly lit, boyish coo. The latter's seminal album Merriweather Post Pavilion turns 10 this year and was an epic feat of indie experimentalism that hasn't, wrote Pitchfork recently, been surpassed. No doubt that anniversary was at the back of Lennox's mind when he made Buoys.
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