Music Portrait | posted 14.04.2011
Panda Bear
Systematised change in style
Panda Bear has found his niche in the broad space of pop music by turning complex music into radio-compatible sound. Also, his roaring Tomboy maintains the splits between popularity and vanguard change in style.
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Panda Bear aka Noah Lennox is someone who has to do things differently every time. He detests the musical standstill of Singer/Songwriters like William Fitzsimmons, where every album sounds like the one before. Therefore, the opener of his new piece Tomboy is called You Can Count On Me. You can definitely count on the fact that this album sounds different from its predecessors. The following lines can be heard on the track Stick To My Side, which Panda recorded last year with Pantha du Prince (however these two found eachother): »Why stick to the things that I´ve already tried?« That pretty much sums up the whole oeuvre.
It is this philosophy or even this compulsion that is shown not only in the differences of the albums. Noah Lennox likes those tracks the most, which he can finish in one go. Idea: done. Music: done. Lyrics: done. Song complete, bam. This is exactly what romanticism called »spontaneous poetry«, today we´d rather say that Waldorf student Noah Lennox is a child of a generation, whose concentration span isn´t – let´s put it nicely – very long. Whatever: Panda Bear has found his niche in the broad space of pop music by turning complex sounds into radio-compatible music. And vice versa.
Mosaic of Pop History
At the age of 20, Panda produced and published his first, self-titeled solo album. The concept of this album mainly impresses with its lack of concept: »I think, I just had no idea at that stage about what made an album, so I just put some of my favourite songs together.« This first album is followed by an intense time with his band Animal Collective, in which they produce about one album a year. 2004, six years later, Panda Bear starts working on his second solo album Young Prayer. He compiles a whole album in just a few days at the deathbed of his beloved father, who reads the songs his son writes, and records the songs just as quickly with his band-mate Deakin. »I just wanted to finish this off quickly.« The songs are minimalistic, just a few acoustic instruments accompany Panda Bear´s falsetto. None of the tracks has a title.
»I was fed up with the strict form of sampling. Thinking about Nirvana or the White Stripes, I got the idea to let music live a lot more on guitar and rhythm.«: Panda Bear
It was only 2007 when a wider audience started to notice Panda Bear. Animal Collective published the successful Strawberry Jam, but especially Pandas third solo album Person Pitch was overpraised by the critics. This was when he changed direction – both in method of songwriting and in the atmosphere of the album. His relocation from New York City to the slower, european Lisbon is audible in the tracks. »Try to remember to always have a good time«, the tenor sings in nostalgia on top of the mantra-like Ah-Samples which structure the song Comfy in Nautica from beginning to end. Without the hippy-like reverb-caterwaul on Person Pitch the vintage-feeling would not have been possible. But it is the structure that differentiates the songs from Surfer-Pop. Panda Bear models personal 12-minute-epics from different samples through music history, just like the amazing Bro´s. The songs seem to bob without structure, but they don´t really, as the spirit of electronic music is manifested in all of them, based on repetition and the to and fro of dynamics. The Kinks and the Beach Boys – so say the »liner notes« – are just as inspirational to Panda as Kraftwerk and Aphex Twin.
Conscious change in style
On Tomboy Panda sticks to the Chillwave-atmosphere that seems to be inspired by the portugese »Benfica«-mentality (which the title of the last track refers to). But the album states a turning away from the epic song dimensions and another change of work method. »I was fed up with the strict form of sampling. Thinking about Nirvana or the White Stripes, I got the idea to let music live a lot more on guitar and rhythm.« On the track Surfer´s Hymn, Panda realises how well his high-pitched voice harmonises with the steel-drum and inevitably approximates bands like Vampire Weekend. Nevertheless, the Leitmotiv, the splits between popularity and conscious, vanguard change of style, always stays put. Luckily, Noah Lennox isn´t only someone who always wants too much at a time, but also someone who masters this splits in every discipline. As he masters this child-like choir voice, put through reverb, which seems to go with every sound: with the pure guitar on Young Prayer as well as with the dreampop-sound of later works.

Panda Bear´s Tomboy can be found on hhv.de: CD | LP
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