[sic] Magazine

Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

Firstly – let’s get something out of the way – I’ve recently invested heavily in upgrading my hi-fi components but Domino Records has chosen to send through a web link to a stream of Panda Bear’s new album which cannot be downloaded and therefore can’t be played through said hi-fi. Therefore, this review is based purely around what I’m hearing through the tiny speakers on my laptop. Not a great start.

The good news is that the album kicks off sounding like a bunch of fun. Panda Bear is just one guy (like many ‘bands’ these days I guess), Noah Lennox. This is Lennox’s fifth album and his first under the Panda Bear moniker in nearly 4 years. First impressions are good – the music sounds like a melting pot of influences such as Yeasayer, French Kicks and even the experimentalists Oneohtrix Point Never. On first listen, ‘Boys Latin’ stands out (is that “Boys’ Latin” or “Boy’s Latin” ? I guess we’ll never know) with its infectious trippy vocals and harmonies. It’s one big party of a track – and well worth a listen. I can only hazard a guess as to what chemicals were flying around the recording studio on the day it was recorded.

Equally, many of the other tracks on the album explore a melody line over a repetitive (and I’m going to use this word again – trippy) musical palette. ‘Tropic Of Cancer’ breaks this mould with its harp-like instrumentation and delicious minor-chord chorus.

I’m not so convinced about the inclusion of tracks such as ‘Shadow Of The Colossus’ – 17 seconds of synth noise which doesn’t really add anything to the overall effect – or ‘Davy Jones’ Locker’ – which is more of the same. Similarly, ‘Lonely Wanderer’ does just that – somewhat aimlessly – it struggles to invite me in, choosing instead to meander over a somewhat tiresome cascading piano riff.

Where Panda Bear hits the spot (on opener ‘Sequential Circuits’, ‘Boys Latin’ or ‘Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker’), there’s definitely more of an emphasis around a proper song structure – and the album’s all the better for it – but Panda Bear often relies too much on a repetitive loop with the complete absence of a well-defined chorus or middle-eight. It’s like taking a single idea and extending it to some 4 minutes – several times over. ‘Principe Real’ is a case in point – there’s a looping synth riff over which we have synth stabs, noises and a looping melody – but more than three minutes into the track I can’t help feeling like I’m being taken on a journey where the navigator has thrown away his map & compass and tells me that “it’s okay, we’ll get there eventually”.

I’ve bought albums previously simply on the strength of a lead track – in this case ‘Boys Latin’ – but then gone on to be disappointed that there aren’t more tracks of this quality across the rest of the album. In a way, that kind of underlines how I feel about Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper.