NOAH LENNOX’S CAMEO on Daft Punk’s Doin’ It Right, from 2013’s inescapable Random Access Memories, placed the Baltimore-born, Lisbon transplant self-admittedly outside his comfort zone. But who knew? Lennox seems out of his comfort zone pretty much everywhere. This somewhat skittish, alien quality animates his music, which is rarely anchored by the things that define most electronic pop – predictable rhythms, bass, riffs – sometimes exasperatingly so. But Panda Bear’s third solo album, 2007’s Person Pitch, remains the best record yet from the Animal Collective stable, and his latest, after the stark and sombre departure of 2011’s Tomboy, will come as blessed relief to fans of Person Pitch’s sublime pulse.
“This is a more colourful record than its predecessor, but it’s troubled, too.”
Lennox has an ace in the hole, of course: the gossamer choirboy vocals he layers and lathers with ecclesiastical reverb. The Beach Boys are a regular comparison, and he appears to have embraced, rather than baulked at it here, especially on the wondrous Tropic Of Cancer – like Flamingos doo-wop via Brian Wilson’s In My Room and filtered through Lennox’s bespoke echo box. You can almost sense the sea fog surrounding you.
This is a more colourful record than its predecessor, but it’s troubled, too. Boys Latin is a groovy schoolroom round appearing to find music in the conjugation of verbs, but Lennox is actually singing, “Dark cloud descended again/And a shadow moves in the darkness.” Death and depression seem to wash in and out of this record (the title’s not as flip as it first appears), but Lennox – whose second solo album, the lo-fi Young Prayer, was addressed to his dying father – has them in balance.
Come To Your Senses is a challenge of sorts – there’s dismay in its cries of “are you mad?” as if he’s recalling a genuine confrontation – but it’s buoyed on an epic, churning groove that’s his most viscerally transporting since Person Pitch’s glorious Bros, and in Crosswords he’s written his most ‘pop’ song yet.
Meanwhile, aficionados of pure sonic treats are well served. With production assistance from Spacemen 3’s Peter Kember, aka Sonic Boom, you’d expect transmissions from the psychedelic dimension, and there are intermissions both balmy and brain-fritzing. But you do sometimes wonder why so much of the action needs to happen in a shallowish treble range and there are moments – like on bouncy, crunchy Principe Real – when this writer wishes Lennox would stick his neck further into the commercial zone.
Visuals at recent Lennox shows have included film of a masked man eviscerating a stuffed panda. It suggests an artist at odds with his public analogue – but when Panda Bear’s disquiet sounds this good, who’d wish him peace of mind?
Listen to Noah Lennox talking through each track on Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper below now.