Panda Bear – [Album]

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Last year was a pretty extraordinary year in my life. I was lucky enough to spend time in Europe and had the fortune of seeing the Kandinsky survey exhibit at the Tate Modern in London. Inside, there were a series of bills posted along the museum illuminating the exhibit and one of them read, "What color is a C#?" Come nine months later and Person Pitch, I find myself once again thinking about the possibilities of sensory crossover. This is Panda Bear's (or pre-hippie-christening Noah Lennox) third solo album, and consistent to his oeuvre, these works submit a grainy synthesis of the electronic and organic in a striking experiment of the attic lo-fi sound.

The first track, “Comfy in Nautica,” is a solemn composition constructed through stacks of mono-functioning instruments: the heavy lift and drop of tap shoes march a singular beat, cracking in place a spine for the muscle of the looped beatific intonations. It's three basic sounds—feet, chorus and Panda Bear—with a few swirls of thunderous sonic mess, but amped up and shouted so triumphantly it fills the space with an expanding force and presence. But as the song comes to its end, a growl infringes on the halo bend of “Comfy in Nautica,” ending the trance rather disjointedly. How does this jarring and menacing closure belong? The album has a number of these disconnects.

I mainly listened to Person Pitch while riding my bike, and whether it was the noon bus roaring by, the cement truck pumping soil down the street or the sound of a wrench hitting metal as the neighbors fixed the garage door, all the sounds of the city fit flawlessly in the record. They actually crept in so comfortably and harmoniously I often did a double-take to make sure these were interruptive sounds seeping in from the world around me and not a part of Panda Bear's selected sonic clutter. There's no doubt that these songs are scrupulously crafted: Person Pitch is sensitive to the noise that things make, and seeks to simulate and seam these disparate effects together. But is this type of aural construct conducive to having shit just thrown on it?

Turn to track 3 and you'll hear “Bros,” a shimmering, ethereal, ineffable song. Panda Bear/Brian Wilson vocal comparisons aside, “Bros” has the upbeat jubilance of Beach Boys pop but evokes the 60s monochrome production through an electronically-filtered, coarse, lo-fi mode. Two hoots from an owl start the galloping meter of a dense song that's hard to peel apart. There's maybe a bass? A foggy synth? Some guitar? It's a haze of harmonic release. Mid-song maraca seeds hit hollowed wood and the percussion rattles like a makeshift ensemble, crude and natural as if it were a tree branch keeping rhythm on a tin plate. Overall there's something detached about “Bros” due to its interesting lack of foreground: stick your head out and look, “Bros” is something overheard down a dim hallway. But rest assured, wherever that sound's coming from there's energy and freewheeling euphoria going on. All of this is complex and none of it is accidental.

Panda Bear's sonic explorations are compelling and telling, but the final two tracks lack the album's building heights and experimentation, ending it on an anti-climactic note with “Search For Delicious” and “Ponytail.” Even if the end dawdles a bit, Panda Bear definitely has an intuition for the beautiful as both these songs contain moments of lingering prettiness. However, the tracks are simply that—pretty—with a lackluster plateau.

Nearly all of the sounds on Person Pitch are electronically looped but the album maintains a murky organic quality to it because it mimics the natural, percussively creating the gurgling sound of water or re-situating a train chattering by on tracks. Strangely enough, if you look at a picture of Panda Bear's workspace, it's all pedals with a gigantic computer sitting in the middle. Record a split, multiply it, pile 'em. Rife with dichotomies, Person Pitch is sounds shone through a rough-cut crystal, a prismatic tossing of light with a muddy sheen, equal parts fuzz and clicks, complex and poppy. As it ought to be, the color of a C# is hard to explain. Go give it a listen.

Person Pitch is out March 20th on Paw Tracks

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