By Pat Gunther
Noah Lennox, better known by the name Panda Bear, has been creating vast and maximal sonic portraits since his days as a founding member of the legendary electronic group Animal Collective. His fifth studio album, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, dropped on Jan. 9 via Domino and touches on a wide number of themes that have inspired Lennox since the release of Tomboy in 2011. Recorded entirely in Portugal, Lennox’s current residence serves as a huge creative muse for the often-airy and always dense tracks that Noah has used to help propel Animal Collective to the top of the electronic world during his tenure with the duo.
The first 4 tracks “Sequential Circuits,” “Mr. Noah,” “Davy Jones’ Locker,” and “Crosswords” all blend together seamlessly, allowing Lennox to explore the cochlear space with multiplying harmonies and deep, rudimentary synthesizer work that mingles in the background, subtly or anything but, over the course of the album’s first 12½ minutes. Repeating drum patterns and effect-dripping vocals set the stage for Lennox’s journey through life’s hardships (like his father succumbing to his battle with cancer on the Jeff Buckley-esque “Tropic of Cancer”) that lead to the eventual death of the Panda Bear the artist as we know him.
Nothing Is Safe
Like Lennox has detailed in months leading up to this record’s release, no sound or stylistic element in his repertoire is indispensable across his 13 songs. Tracks that feel like Animal Collective cuts end up taking twists that make them sound like nothing around right now, while he masterfully uses drone synths and creepy chanting vocals with dark organ work on some of the deeper cuts. On the opposite spectrum, tracks like “Lonely Wanderer” and “Principe Real” evoke feeling ranging from a blissful self-content in a dense sun-soaked forest to a breezy Portuguese beach as the record’s high points.
Throughout, Lennox uses the impulses that make him such a unique artist to craft an LP that is entirely cohesive yet dispersed with relatable and sonically rich instrumentation and vocals. The final three tracks, running a little over 13 minutes in length, crash into one another in a state of sonic homeostasis. Though some of the songs tend to blend together and sound the same at times, Lennox’s layered textures and experimental melodies create a world for the listener to dive into, and like Portugal’s legendary surf, arise from born anew.
Favorite Tracks: “Mr. Noah”, “Boys Latin”, “Tropic of Cancer”, “Principe Real”
Least Favorite Tracks: “Sequential Circuits”, “Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker”