Full disclosure: I can’t stand Person Pitch. The tracks are so self-conscious and purposefully constructed to telegraph “wonder” and “child-like awe” that it screams “bullshit” to me. Harmonies and regurgitated sample-delics don’t always save hippie-fried bedroom emo. Also, to get the comparison out of the way: for many reasons, five Panda Bears DO NOT sound like this. Also, how seriously can you take a guy who calls himself “Panda Bear," anyway? Doing so feels like a natural step in some profound, moronic trend.
I, partly, kid. I think I’d be less reluctant to get into what so many others see as one of the best albums of the past decade if Panda Bear, a.k.a. Noah Lennox, cut through all the damn reverb and let me hear the actual sound of his voice. He did so on Young Prayer, and it’s a great album, possibly my favorite in the Animal Collective universe. The human voice is an amazing thing, and Person Pitch somehow manages to make it bland. No cracks, no risks, no clarity; just smeared layers servicing a message in which I’ve no purchase.
The new album title, Tomboy, reveals that we’re in for more of the same. On “Last Night at the Jetty," we get lyrics like “I don’t want to describe something that I’m not / I don’t want to hide the thoughts that I have.” On “Slow Motion", we get retorts to a “they” who say that “practice makes you perfect;” Lennox lets us know, in case we didn’t, that “It’s what they don’t say / That’s what counts.” Now we know. We know now.
Again, I, partly, kid. But I don’t hear the poetry in this music because it tries so damn hard to be poetic, and at the same time, I don’t hear pain because Lennox echoes it away. Musically, Tomboy is a retreat from Person Pitch‘s jam-packed soundscapes, and while that might seem like a step in my direction, the root problems still exist. “Drone” reminds me of La Monte Young’s The Black Record, but Young is so much more successful because, for starters, the pure sound of his and Marian Zazeela’s voices actively interact with the drone, rather than, I don’t know, blurrily hang out with it.
Lennox reportedly cut back on the samplers after thinking about Nirvana and The White Stripes, but that’s misleading. There is little “rock” in this album, or at least it rocks about as much as Person Pitch. There are also fewer ingredients to submerge within the aesthetic, which puts Tomboy at a disadvantage.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be sold on his approach, but scattered moments do shine. The last minute of “Tomboy” is terrific, with Lennox taking a cue from Sonic Boom, the fella who mixed the album. Lennox’s typically warbly guitar finds a pure strum, and the bass and scattered electronics do more than just provide a bed for his voice. I want to listen to it for 10 minutes, but he starts to fade it after 30 seconds, which is strong evidence that Panda Bear and I aren’t on the same page.