Noah Lennox, known by his stage name Panda Bear, is an experimental musician and also one of the founding members of the psychedelic pop band Animal Collective. In 1998, he released his debut self-titled solo album, with a follow up album, Young Prayer, in 2004. His 2007 album, Person Pitch, was highly acclaimed and extremely successful, utilizing mostly samples of other musicians’ works to create entirely new pieces, along with Lennox’s unique singing style. However, his new album, Tomboy, moves away from sampling and goes back to focusing on guitar and rhythm, as he stated in an interview on the album. The result is ethereal, psychedelic, and nostalgic, and very catchy as well.
The album begins with “You Can Count On Me”, where Lennox’s harmonized vocals ring out with a nice reverb and delay, along with a cinematic-like drum rhythm and guitar drowned in psychedelic reverb, delay, flanger, and all sorts of other effects and strange noises. The song overall is a great introduction to the album, setting the tone for what is to come next. “Tomboy” begins with a delayed drum rhythm, followed by guitar chords and a synth chords melody, covered in more psychedelic goodness. Lennox’s harmonized vocals on this song make the overall atmosphere even more beautiful. The psychedelic effects may make the song sound a bit strange on first listen, but underneath all the surrealism is catchy pop lyrics, Beach Boys-esque vocals, and an amazing arrangement of sounds to create a stunning composition that cannot easily be beat by most music today. “Slow Motion” begins with more strange drum sounds alongside dub-influenced guitar or synth chords. Lennox’s vocals aren’t harmonized here at first, but nevertheless, his vocals make the perfect touch to this song, and his range is certainly impressive. Eventually, the Beach Boys influence is heard yet again, along with hip-hop like grooves. The song’s psychedelic effects also make the song sound a bit like it is moving in slow motion, but not glacially. Overall, it is yet another beautiful song that contributes well to the album. “Surfer’s Hymn” begins with fluttering synth lines and sounds of the seashore. Lennox’s beautiful vocals enter to create a sense of calm on the listener, before the chillwave-like drums enter to create a nostalgic, 60s or 80s-like atmosphere that certainly is different from most music today, harkening to chillwave contemporaries Neon Indian and Washed Out. There also seems to be sitar-like samples throughout the track as well. “Last Night At The Jetty” begins with a drum machine rhythm and happily melodic guitar chords that sound like they are still stuck in a time long ago, perhaps in Old-Time America or something along those lines, but still keeping a sense of today. Lennox’s vocals are absolutely beautiful throughout the track, creating atmospheres that are yet again similar to The Beach Boys or any of the sunshine pop from back then. The strange sound effects also fit well in this track as well. “Drone” is, well, self-explanatory. A synthesizer drone is heard at the beginning, and Lennox’s vocals are held out to incredible lengths. More synthesizer drones can be heard throughout the track, creating a very unique atmosphere. If you are looking for true ambient or drone pop, this is it. It’s similar to the Justin Bieber “U Smile” experiment, where it is stretched out 800%, except that here, the drones are unimaginably real and organic, and every bit as beautiful as that experiment. A great break from all of the psychedelic pop that the album contains.
“Alsatian Darn”, which starts out the second half of the album, starts with more drum machine beats and a Celtic-like guitar drone. Lennox’s vocals here are yet again stunning, and the atmosphere throughout is melancholic and beautiful. Psychedelic effects and synthesizers yet again play a huge role throughout the track, but it makes the song more dense and like drinking a glass of milk. Smooth and silky. “Scheherazade” begins the next track with, surprisingly, jazz-like piano chords and strange swooping effects similar to the sounds of the ocean. Lennox’s vocals here are yet again applied with more reverb, but they add to the soothing, droning tonal qualities of his voice to create more beautiful atmospheres. Strange sci-fi electronic tones and what sounds to be like wind chimes also play a role here, and overall, the atmosphere is very ambient and somewhat unsettling, but every bit as beautiful as the rest of the album already is. Lennox’s falsetto voice can also be heard at times, which adds more soothing tones to the track as well. “Friendship Bracelet” begins with noise blasts and synth arpeggios, along with Lennox’s reverb-saturated and harmonized vocals. A tribal-like beat soon enters softly, along with more strange sound effects that add to the atmosphere of the track. Guitar licks can also be heard in the distance as well, and at the end is just hypnotically repetitive, with Lennox’s vocals, the tribal beat, and all the strange psychedelic stuff going on, which seems to revolve around the listener. “Afterburner”, the longest track on the album at almost 7 minutes long, begins with some ambient noise and a African-like techno beat, along with strange instrumentation and a deep bassline. Lennox’s vocals seem to sound influenced by African music as well, with a lot of beautiful harmonies and melodies that sound as though they should have been included in The Lion King or some African-themed musical, regardless whether the music sounds too surreal and psychedelic or not. The bassline also seems to be influenced by 80s synthpop as well, in regards of the synth sound and the rhythms. The song picks up steam with strange sound effects and an even more techno-influenced beat, which is still subtle and somewhat hidden in the background, as the whole sound is ambient overall, though you could try and dance to it if you wanted to. The song also takes a hypnotic and droning instrumental break, with all sorts of strange synthesized sounds going on, which also settles down layer by layer to end the track out. The final track, “Benfica”, ends the album out with more reverb-laden and harmonized vocals, 80s-like synthesized bell sounds, and a lot of ambient drones and pads going on in the background. Strange swirling sound effects also are present near the end of the track, and ends out beautifully, giving the listener one last breath of the album before it ends.
Overall, if you are a fan of Panda Bear and have been wondering if “Tomboy” lives up to the greatness of 2007’s “Person Pitch”, I am happy to announce that you won’t be disappointed with this album. “Tomboy” is just as great and as beautiful as “Person Pitch”, even if it doesn’t utilize samplers nearly as much as that album. However, if you are not used to this type of psychedelic ambient pop, give it time to sink in. I had a hard time trying to listen to it the first time, since I didn’t know quite what to expect, but after a couple of listens, I was really enjoying what Lennox was doing with this album, and I loved all of the nostalgic sounds that he contributed to this album. Expect “Tomboy” to be the future of pop music. Certainly one of the best albums of the year so far.
Artist: Panda Bear
Genre: Psychedelic/ambient pop
Released in 2011 by Paw Tracks
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