The first solo effort from Noah Lennox in some four years, ‘Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper’ comes as parent group Animal Collective pursue rather more direct, raucous climes. A true individual, though, Panda Bear manages to create something that is both separate and complementary to the Baltimore-born outfit’s output.
The title itself is rather a misnomer. A nod towards the golden era of roots reggae and dub exploration, the sounds on ‘Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper’ borrow more from the 1990s mainstream. Percussive loops tend to lean on hip-hop production, with the album owing more to A Tribe Called Quest and Pete Rock than Augustus Pablo.
That said, the material is still defiantly exploratory. The swirling, neo-psychedelia of opener ‘Sequential Circuits’ is a pure as a babbling brook, while lead cut ‘Mr Noah’ (video, below) employs Panda Bear’s perfect tenor to exquisite effect. Much of the material has a lightness of touch, a naïf-like experimental whim that allows the American artist to plunder the catalogues of both Debussy and Tchaikovsky.
Yet, with the aid of producer Peter Kember, aka Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom, ‘Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper’ can still pack a punch: the angled percussion of ‘Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker’ for example, or the near Italo synths on ‘Selfish Gene’.
Lyrically, Panda Bear is unafraid to touch upon darker, more personal realms. ‘Tropic Of Cancer’ may have a pastoral air, but it is directly inspired by the Big C, while even outwardly pretty tracks such as the Brian Wilson harmonies of ‘Crosswords’ betray a nagging melancholy.
A compact, concise return, ‘Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper’ is an enticing document. One of the songwriter’s most overtly gorgeous works, it finds Panda Bear easing into new ground while maintaining his near effortless melodic touch.
Words: Robin Murray
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