21 January 2015

Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

I am picking up this album on the request I took years ago to review a totally different record.  Let me explain, an awfully long time ago I was asked to review Animal Collective and their album 'Merriweather Post Pavilion' and I have just not got round to it.  It is because every time I put the album on it, something else has always came along and now we are almost two years on and I feel like a little bit of a fraud for not doing it.  So, as a taste for what is to come with that I am reviewing the latest album from Animal Collective off-shot - Panda Bear.  This is the name which Noah Benjamin Lennox works under for his music endeavours.  This is his fifth solo album and it has a cover which is a nightmare for people who are colour blind (which I am).  I have been told that it is very catching, and not just a few lines and some solids which I thought it was.  Musically, I am expecting this to be similar to Animal Collective; but I have been wrong before, so let’s see what I am getting myself into....

The album starts with "Sequential Circuits", obviously from the beginning you are introduced to a rich and deep electronic soundscape; if you are expecting guitar solos and million miles an hour tracks, you might want to look elsewhere.  Reminding me of Hot Chip, this song sounds like it has been made from a church organ and the sound of speakers being fed through a waterfall.  It is incredibly relaxing for me, even the sinister feedback at the ending which leads onto "Mr Noah".  With high pitch noises, mixed in with animal howls, squawks and squeaks, this dance floor number which should have a club jumping pounds.  The animal noises are mixed into the chanting number; it is reminiscent of early 2000 period electronica and has a natural anthemic feel, something that some acts could learn from these days.  After this is the bridging thirty five seconds of "Davy Jones' Locker" which leads onto "Crosswords"; this number is more measured and reserved, if anything it feels like a relaxing number to watch a sun drift down towards the horizon after a summer's day.  This is a nice feel to be having in the middle of January.  It does not quite push all the right buttons, but it is still pleasant enough. 

"Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker" reminds me of the sound the sound created on "Anywhere I Lay My Head", which was an album of Tom Waits covers by the actress Scarlett Johansson.  With the feeling as if you are hearing the vocals through a dream, the combination of heavy bass is a little off putting, but also very interesting at the same time; it is not the most conventional number and that makes it very clever for me.  Been on a constant spin for me for a few days and really improves the feel of the album.  "Boys Latin" is one of two songs that have been released as singles on the records, with "Mr Noah".  It is a mixture of the laid back vibe of "Crosswords" which twisting vocals that attack from each speaker in separate attacks, it is quite a disorientating number in places and it takes a while for it to make sense; but stay with it dear reader, once you get the song it is incredibly rewarding.  After this is the longest song on the album, "Come To Your Senses", which starts with random noises as if you are quickly channel hopping until it drops you into another you in another dream pop, twisted electronica nightmare of drone, strong bass and drifting vocals.  At this point, I am wishing for a difference in the vocal delivery as it has been pretty much the same from beginning to end on this album, but this is a small thing.  Another issue with this song is that it is about three minutes too long and could have been trimmed a little bit.  "Tropic Of Cancer" starts with mournful horns and the sound akin to the winds across a desert, once the strings start it feels once again as if you are in that dream state; because of this dream like state, it is more of a number to relax to and not one to start the heart pumping.  To be honest, it does not quite connect with me; but it is well produced and does not sound out of place with the overall theme of the album.

After bridging track "Shadow Of The Colossus", you are introduced to "Lonely Wanderer"; this track is another atmospheric number, changing from dream utopia to nightmarish descent to a darkened hell.  The effect is to stall this already slow album to a stall; it effectively places the album into a coma - why was it left on?  Just to give the sense of loneliness that the wanderer is facing?  If that is the reason, mission accomplished, but otherwise it just sucks the life out of the listening experience for the audience.  "Principe Real" is much more lively in comparison, bringing back some much needed energy (in a given sense of the word), it is not as drone-like as quite a lot of this album and it feels like a ray of sunshine after the darkness of "Lonely Wanderer", when it first played after that track, I was almost in euphoria.  On repeated listens, it is not as strong to be honest - but it is such an improvement after "Lonely Wanderer".  The penultimate track is "Selfish Gene", this track is incredibly frustrating; it is calling for proper drums and bass to help with the gorgeous keyboards and vocals, what we get it a five minute tease towards a sense of release that would have propelled this number to a higher level - this is akin to being fed lines that something will happen, then find out you have just been watching the same static image for a few hours - could have been something special.  Ending this album is "Acid Wash"; starting off with a strange wash of noisy and sound the song starts off with that drone/dream pop nature that has peppered this album from beginning to end.  Much like "Selfish Gene", it is screaming for a change or addition to the song; unlike "Selfish Gene" it receives one, sort of.  It has a strange change which drifts into the main section again without changing much of the original tune or overall feeling.  The sonic ending of the track though is a satisfactory ending to this album though.

I was hoping that I could agree with the hype I have heard from this album, I want to be a believer here; when this album works, it really strikes a chord.  But there is far too much static and plodding to this record, one of the biggest things I have read about it is that Panda Bear is experimenting with his sound here - it seems as if he is not doing that in my opinion.  Experimenting would be releasing an album that has a totally different feel and uses different instrumentation - this is not that far from his original formula, as for being more catchy - it does not achieve that either.  It almost gets there, but at each turn it plods into nothing apart from a few numbers.  The middle to end section is especially poor, taking whatever good work was previous done and making it nil and void.  It could have been a good album, maybe even a great record; instead it is frustrating and below standard.  There is no doubting the talent of Panda Bear, but this is not the album that has been promised.

5 out of ten - It could have been a bit better

Top track - Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker

You can purchase Panda Bear Vs... From Amazon here

You can visit the Panda Bear website here

You can listen to the album on Deezer here

Here is a link for our Spotify users

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