Panda Bear aka Noah Lennox returns with Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, his fifth solo album following on from 2011’s Tomboy.
Lennox gained early notoriety as a member of Animal Collective as well as releasing his first 2 solo albums which were generally well received; however 2007’s Person Pitch was arguably his breakout album, clearly defining his solo work from that of Animal Collective.
His unmistakable vocal harmonies were a core ingredient of Person Pitch and have since become somewhat of a trademark of his sound. But having such a distinctive vocal sound can be a burden, a burden which can become insurmountable for some artists. Fortunately Lennox has avoided this through restless sonic exploration and an evolving musical palette, which shifts once again on his latest LP.
‘Sequential Circuits’ is a fairly unassuming opener, subtly setting the scene before lead single ‘Mr Noah’ signals the albums arrival with its fuzzed-out swagger and catchy vocal melody.
‘Crosswords’ could be the bastard child of early 90’s hit ‘Set Adrift on Memory Bliss’ by P.M. Dawn evoking similarly summery vibes. Another similarity is the simple hip-hop beats that underpin both tracks which, in the case of P.M. Dawn was sampled from Eric B & Rakim’s ‘Paid in Full’, a trivial titbit which makes sense considering Lennox cited early hip-hop as a particular influence on the album. And this influence can be heard in the rhythms of many of the tracks which are more content with steady, rolling grooves rather than rhythmic variance.
Second single ‘Boys Latin’ is a squelchy, psychedelic number with its aquatic undertones and rapid call and response vocals perfectly realised in the accompanying video’s trippy animation.
The most pleasantly surprising song from the album comes in the form of ‘Tropic of Cancer’, a solemn, stripped back piece reminiscent of the rich balladry of the late 60’s/early 70’s penned by luminaries like Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The song centres on a sampled harp arpeggio which provides a prefect counterpart for one of the most impressive vocal performances of his career.
The mellow mid-section continues with ‘Lonely Wanderer’, a sparse piano-led excursion which harks back to the dreamy mantra-like feel of tracks such as ‘Bees’ and ‘Loch Raven’ from Animal Collective’s 2005 album Feels.
Another interesting element of Grim Reaper is the scattering of dissonant electronic segments which act as intros, outros or standalone interludes across the album; a subtle reminder that this is still one of the artists responsible for such impenetrable sounds as Danse Manatee.
‘Principe Real’ wouldn’t be out of place in the discography of so-called chillwave acts like Washed Out and Neon Indian with its dreamy synth lines and electropop stomp. Final track ‘Acid Wash’ feels like it could have come from any Panda Bear-era, combining the familiar vocal harmonies of Person Pitch, the dub grooves of Tomboy and the brash psychedelic bursts of Animal Collective, and as such is a fitting end, providing a feeling of closure on another chapter in his impressive career.