Panda Bear releases fourth studio album, “Tomboy”

Published in the USD Vista Student Newspaper



If you happened to come by my place any day this week, you would have heard Panda Bear’s new album “Tomboy” constantly streaming through of my speakers via NPR’s “First Listen” profile. NPR provided the entire album for free from April 3 until its release on April 12, and I streamed it dry while it was available in order to try and wrap my head around Panda Bear’s elaborate new submission.


Panda Bear is the formative member of Animal Collective, and “Tomboy” is his fourth solo album. Known less as Noah Lennox, Panda Bear was born in Baltimore and experiments within a wide array of genres. He is a prodigious musician involved in an exhaustive amount of recordings, most of which were done with the other members of Animal Collective.


Trying to describe “Tomboy” is difficult, as the album is densely crafted. Every inch of the background, the foreground and the sides you didn’t know existed are full of reverb and drawn-out strangeness. There are layers of bells, bleeps and echoes coming from every angle. When I try hard to analyze my way through the music, I can’t find a path. When I sit back and let the waves of dissonant, bouncing oddness and comforting chorus pound away, I start to get it.


I would compare Panda Bear’s voice on this new release to that of a lone church choir. In fact, some songs feature organs and clapping, like in “Alsatian Darn.” If this were church music, it would make me want to praise a god (as long as he were a bear). I find the way he sings to be at once primal and distinguishably human, no matter how distorted and drenched in echoes it may be.  


Ever since my Irish neighbor played me Panda Bear’s meandering boyish voice in the Animal Collective track “Fireworks” four years ago, I have been addicted. I think there is something knowing in the way his voice walks about to different pitches; it is not the normal singsong, it is a more developed and expert knowledge. Similar to his prior solo release, “Person Pitch,” Panda Bear layers his voice and adds a subtle complexity to his melodies that only increase this sense in this new album.


A few songs, including “Friendship Bracelet,” are so phased with tremolo and echo that the lyrics are mostly indecipherable. Though I don’t mind reading the lyrics in order to understand vocals on a track, many listeners might not appreciate the extra work. Like past Panda Bear works, the lyrics are generally simplistic in their diction, but they still convey deep and sometimes confusing meanings. Panda Bear likes to draw out and repeat simple one-syllable words rather than add complex, fast lyrics of a higher lexicon, and the result is droning and dreamy.


The lyrics for “Tomboy” probably wont be posted until some time after the release, so I won’t be able to compare them much just yet. However, the lyrics I can make out give hints that in general, Panda Bear’s style has maintained the subtle declarations of his previous release. “No you can’t count on me” is the first lyric on the album, and it is drawn out and repeated in a similar style to songs like “Bros” from “Person Pitch.” In a few songs, like “Slow Motion,” repetition makes up the majority of the song, creating an elated air of one who is both confident and wise. It likens to a religious, trancelike chant.


After several listens, it seems obvious that this music is spiritually transcendent. In “The Doors of Perception,” Aldous Huxley described the state of is-ness he experienced in an experiment with mescaline, and I might describe this music as a non-hallucinogenic pathway into a similar a state of consciousness. It is music that transcends the mind through billowy, high-pitched om-like vibrations, and it places the listener in a peaceful trance that allows the complexity to at once seem all so simple.