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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Album Review: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper - Panda Bear

Animal Collective founder's fifth solo outing is a (relavitely) commercial affair.
Noah Lennox of Animal Collective performs on stage in Los Angeles. Paul A Hebert / Invision / AP Photo
Noah Lennox of Animal Collective performs on stage in Los Angeles. Paul A Hebert / Invision / AP Photo

Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

Panda Bear

(Domino)

Four stars

Meet Panda Bear, otherwise known as Noah Lennox, a founding member of the archetypal experimental indie outfit Animal Collective, who hold the world record as the Band Most Name-Dropped by Hipsters at House Parties. Fact.

At least they did until 2009 when, after a decade of Pitchfork-baiting obscurity, their eighth LP, Merriweather Post Pavilion, was suddenly hailed as an instant classic (geeky “review aggregation” website Metacritic ranked it the most positively received record of the year).

Centipede Hz in 2012 repeated the trick – and the Animal Collective secret was out.

Yet the more hummable approach of those two records was first heard on the founding member Panda Bear’s 2007 solo LP Person Pitch, another critics’ favourite that hinted at what could be done when the Collective reined in their weirder impulses (such as, say, recording a whole album outdoors, on one mic in one continuous take, as they did with 2003’s Campfire Songs).

Lennox’s solo work has two modes – and one trick. Mode one: upbeat, house-influenced drones driven by stomping beats. Mode two: fuzzy folk singalongs with obvious chord progressions. The trick? Bathing both in layers of swirling, psychedelic samples.

After the funeral-organ whirr of the opener Sequential Circuits, the album clicks into gear with the single Mr Noah, a warm haze of muddy beats peppered by Lennox’s infectious, incomprehensible vocal line. Delay-deranged piano stabs take the fore in the childishly lilting Crosswords, while the psychedelic cause is turned up to 11 on the Madchester-channelling Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker.

Throughout, simple vocal melodies fight to be heard over sonic expanses. Boy Latin sounds like a nursery rhyme put to a trance-inducing bass wobble.

The mood changes suddenly at the midway point with Tropic of Cancer, a bright and innocent harp-driven ballad that sounds like The Beach Boys were let loose in My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields’s studio.

Oddly, the album saves its most commercial moments for last. Principle Real channels a head-nodding hip-hop groove and breaks into – get this – an actual chorus. The electro-sea shanty Acid Wash wraps with Lennox’s multi-tracked vocal leading a choir-sized send-off.

The key to Lennox’s sonic soup is simmering together so many tastes that you can no longer tell instruments or samples apart – the resulting stew of sound must be stomached in full. And, like the best kitchen work, this combination of otherwise unremarkable ingredients is far more than the sum of its parts.

Lennox has signalled this fifth solo release may be the last to feature the Panda Bear name.

Having explored his magic formula to such extensive effect here, one hopes there’s a second sonic sleight of hand up Lennox’s sleeve.

rgarratt@thenational.ae