Dense fog floods the airspace while electronic bogs gurgle and cackle.
The sun shines through the forestry, illuminating the sonic foliage peeking out just above the swamp’s murky depths. Suddenly – Noah Lennox emerges from the darkness, walking side by side with a cloaked, ominous figure: Death, itself—he’s not frightened, but playfully pensive in their interactions.
Lennox’s new album, released under his Panda Bear moniker, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, reveals a kaleidoscope mosaic of layered melodies and sound; psychedelia twisting and turning between man and machine, human and beast, and most prominently, life, death, and the journey that takes us from one point to the other.
The Animal Collective crooner first began his most complex and bombastic record to date during the Centipede HZ sessions. Demos and ideas were aggregated and subsequently tweaked, toggled, and transformed over a seven week span with co-producer and former Spacemen 3 member, Peter Kember (credited here under his alias, Sonic Boom).
Pulling influences from comically titled 70’s dub albums like King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown and 90’s hip-hop drum programming a la DJ Premier and Q-Tip, the 36-year-old musician molds and constructs a cosmic conglomerate touching on the insecurities and joys that come as a father and husband approaches middle age.
The work commences with the otherworldly electronic splashes, chirps, and reverberations of “Sequential Circuits.” Panda Bear harmonizes with himself, emulating his fervent affinity for choir-like vocal soundscapes as the track finally dissolves into guttural trickles of electronica. Oscillating tones and canine yelps and howls distantly tease the listener’s ears whilst the next song enters the fold—the self referential, “Mr. Noah.”
Computerized synth tones warble and drum claps bounce until Lennox’s perfect tenor arrives, rhythmically annunciating every syllable, “this dog got bit on a leg/ he got a really big chip on a leg/ don’t want to get out of bed/ unless he feels like it’s justified.”
In a recent Pitchfork interview, he explains focusing on broadening the scope of his lyrics this time around,
[quote_center]“Everything I talk about on the songs was inspired by personal events, but I whittled away at the words so that they’d feel more universal and less about things that happened to me.”[/quote_center]
These broad lyrical brush strokes propagate empathy and introspection at every turn. On “Come to Your Senses” the speaker repetitiously asks his spouse, “are you mad?” over and over until the words have lost meaning, his heart swelling in tandem with the auditor’s.
Themes of beasts, adversity and self-reflection run amok throughout Grim Reaper. But for an album shrouded in such dark content, the actual output is often upbeat and up-lifting. The pulsating and digitized rhythms of “Boys Latin” and “Principe Real” will have listeners bobbing their head in uncontrollable fashion, feet following thereafter.
On the former (as shown above on Jimmy Fallon last night), Lennox elucidates these aforementioned themes, examining the juxtaposition between animals and mankind, “beasts don’t have a second to think/ but we don’t appreciate our things,” each word deconstructed into an echoing phonemic outpouring of emotion to the point where the actual words are almost indiscernible.
Panda Bear is at his most affective on “Tropic of Cancer,” a harp-laden narrative pertaining to his late father’s illness, accepting the harsh truth the Grim Reaper brings, “and you can’t get back, you won’t come back/ you can’t come back to it.”
The finality of death is a growing concern for all human beings and as Lennox, a father of two, faces darkness amidst watching his children grow up, he’s not shying away but facing it head on.
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper showcases Noah Lennox’s thriving strengths as a composer and writer; not to mention, his nonpareil vocal delivery may be one of the most unique our generation has seen. That inimitable voice fused within his labyrinth of meticulous electro-production makes for his most accessible and perhaps, greatest solo effort yet.
One can only hope his or her own encounter with the Grim Reaper will be half as beautiful as Mr. Noah’s.
(Feature photo by Blake Schwarz)