Panda Bear’s ‘Tomboy’ offers pop cacophony

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CD Review

Hipsters across the country have been losing their Urban Outfitters-cool, apathetic facade to get their hands on Panda Bear’s (Noah Lennox’s solo effort)Tomboy, the follow-up to 2007’s Person Pitch.

It’s also Lennox’s first solo album since his other band, Animal Collective, released its critically acclaimedMerriweather Post Pavilion in 2009. On first listen, the hype seems to be over noise. Another couple of spins reveals that Tomboy is just that — beautiful, clattering, chaotic and triumphant noise.

There are subtle but significant differences between his breakthrough album Person Pitch and Tomboy. Lennox is less focused on capturing Person Pitch’s lengthy, sampled patchwork compositions and instead works with original music that relies on hooks, leaning on the relatively poppier side of things. Moreover, the album is calmer and more centered compared to his more blatantly adventurous work with Animal Collective on Merriweather. While those particular aspects contributed to the adoration of critics and fans alike for those albums, Lennox has comfortably evolved his sound into something familiar yet remarkably fresh.

On Tomboy, Lennox breaks down his rhythms, melodies and lyrics to their barest bones to capture the basic, visceral thrill of listening to music. What matters is not a particular synth or lyric so much as how all the aspects come together to make the listener react and understand that this is what differentiates cacophonic noise from music.

With his childlike vocals, he creates a tribal theme for the new century on “Slow Motion.” The song has thumping, looped electronics over an atmospheric haze that whirl around his wailing, echoing vocals. Throughout the album, most of his lyrics are indecipherable. Instead, he latches onto repetitious chants to drive home his point. In “Last Night at the Jetty” he goes over phrases pining for innocence and a simple peacefulness with different intonations, as though he is a child figuring out how best to articulate his longing. On “Surfer’s Hymn,” Lennox taking the Beach Boys’ wall of sound to its natural progression by reverberating the harmonizing vocals and adding ska and dub to the melody.

People may criticize musicians like Panda Bear for their high conceptual themes, unfriendly melodies and indecipherable lyrics. In a way, Tomboy is Panda Bear’s uncompromising answer. Lennox forces the listener to let go and understand the simplistic pleasure in finding music in the noise.

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Genre: Electronic Alternative
Tracks: 11
For those who like: Animal Collective, The Flaming Lips, The Velvet Underground
Grade: A-