Panda Bear Crosswords [EP]

[Domino; 2015]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: PBVSGR, high-production
Others: Sonic Boom, Animal Collective

Noah Lennox no doubt works tirelessly on his music, which has been refined into these busily layered soundscapes, the now-signature pop of Panda Bear in the PBVSGR era. That album has aged neutrally, and only a handful of its tracks (“Lonely Wanderer,” “Tropic Of Cancer”) capture the sort of sound-bending imagination of his past songwriting or the candid ugliness of his live performances. But I don’t want to exhaust my own criticism that these songs collectively amount to “an exhaustion of his sonic palette.”

The EP, a Surprise Release like its bookending companion Mr Noah before it, sounds of a piece with this meshy Greaper whole, but either in its brevity or repetition, it takes on a more therapeutic candor (chant with me: “Marijuana makes my day” or “So it’s getting busy living/ Or it’s getting busy dying”).

Given the motivational sweetness here, I have a feeling Lennox (we call him Noah on the forum) is a dad first and a contented ex-pat musician second. When I put in the Person Pitch CD on a car ride back from some holiday in 2007, I remember how my dad became increasingly excited after every song — “Panda Bear is just one person?” “Where is he from?” My dad had introduced me to (Gabriel-)Genesis and Neil Young and The Cure and Alanis Morrisette, and now I was finally giving a musical gift back. In the past eight years, as both our lives have grown more busied, so have Panda’s compositions become denser and noisily hypersaturated. I haven’t heard my dad’s thoughts yet on the EP, but I bet he’s all about the standout last two tracks.

“The Preakness” is the most drastic reimagination on record of previous recordings/performances from Panda Bear since Animal Collective took the minimally sweet harmonies of “Taste” and turned it into a banger with monster bass (a change my dad rejected at first). The Crosswords-“Preakness” is a monster itself compared to the gentle rise and fall of the track’s 2011 studio appearance on the cross-promotional Keep cassette. It now stands as an uptempo anthem, its ascending harmonies carried away on a surging sequenced piano with racing chord changes and a million moving parts. Listening to the original version, all windblown field recordings and barebones Tomboy guitar, or even digging back to the similarly sparse ballad “O Please Bring Her Back” from his bedroom debut, it becomes clearer that Panda Bear’s now hyper-busy aesthetic is a sonic foil for the simple affirmatives that he hangs on: “I’d like just to say to keep up/ Keep it up/ Keep it up/ Keep it up.” The constant flux of noise is the high-production undertow that his songs have to keep it up against.

Or else Sonic Boom’s high-production creates a lullaby Pandora-at-night. “Cosplay,” whose sole lyrics are that above cited chant, “Marijuana makes my day” (maybe the affective Rosetta stone for every Panda Bear song ever, except for “Laughed For A World Filled With Fantasy,” where he sings he’d be okay without it). I listened to the hymn while folding and putting away my laundry (a relaxing feat), and in the song’s comforting drone, I remembered my walk home from the school bus, hearing my dad’s music down the block blasting through open windows and watching him fold laundry on the living room floor, our cheap polyester curtains blowing in the late August breeze. The folding process was a blanked-out contentment, a sort of doable habitual haven within the swarm of anxiety and responsibility. Somewhere in the chugging current of sample noise, “Cosplay” gave me that, like how Crosswords is maybe meant to.

The rest of the EP, though, like most of Panda’s recent output, just washes over me lukewarm. If you really loved Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, here’s more. The title track is a warmer remix of the early PBVSGR song with more present sample accompaniment; “No Mans Land” straddles the listenable/forgettable boundary; and “Jabberwocky” lays down a cozy beat before the EP goes off to the races, before the noise-riddled production seems to serve a purpose. And even if this latest batch of Panda pop isn’t going to be on heavy rotation, it can at least offer me that too-rarely recalled comfort of an open-windowed living room, a feeling like suspension without suspense.

Links: Panda Bear - Domino

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