|Panda Bear / Person Pitch|
|Add Date:||2007-04-08|| ||Pull Date:||2007-06-10|| ||Charts:||RPM/Electronica|
|Week Ending:||10 Jun||3 Jun||27 May||20 May||13 May||6 May||29 Apr||22 Apr|
(review for the Stanford Daily)|
John Vanderslice once said, “Distortion... equals sex and violence, and if you don’t have sex and violence in rock ‘n’ roll, then you’re totally done for.” Panda Bear’s (Noah Lennox of Animal Collective) second full-length album, “Person Pitch,” is one of the most distorted pop records to come out this year, with every vocal line swollen with reverb, ominous whale song noises roaring in the background and melodies that you wish would never stop echoing.
However, the brand of hedonism that Panda Bear sells with such sonic manipulations is, well, bereft of any sex or violence. Like Animal Collective, the music offers a visceral innocence of a sound somewhere between the Beach Boys and heavily processed campfire sing-alongs. Lennox, however, abandons the raw and primitive trappings of most of AC’s catalogue, opting for a sound closer to the sparkly “Bat, You’ll Fly,” rather than the giddy warfare of “Hollinndagain.” The distortion of “Person Pitch” isn’t an act of violence against the listener or the songs; rather, the warped sound forms the core of a series of excellent pop songs that are fun to hear without the risk of losing your soul.
These are not “clean” songs distorted for the sake of experimentation (or “sex and violence”), like those on the recent Clap Your Hands Say Yeah release. The quiet and muffled chanting vocals in the mix of “Comfy in Nautica” is not meant to intimate some sort of distance between the listener and the “essence” of the song; rather, the distance is as much a part of the composition as the melody, and any attempt to “cleanly” replicate this song, or most others on “Person Pitch,” would, contrary to Mr. Vanderslice, commit violence against the music. This album is an entirely different beast than Panda Bear’s debut, “Young Prayer,” and the minimalist campfire atmosphere has largely been lost somewhere in its reverb.
Handclaps and irregular strumming have mostly been replaced by lo-fi world beats, exacting samples and distant vocal threads. At the price of sacrificing the extreme intimacy of his solo debut, Lennox has created a record that smothers the listener with massive and spacious noise. “Good Girl” exemplifies this aesthetic chance, with the vocals smothered beneath waves of their own echoes and electronic samples, before transitioning into the aggressive and off-balance rumble of the piano loop in “Carrots.”
This drastic departure actually shapes the fundamental way that the album functions. Rather than relying on the traditional tension/release dynamics of most pop music, Lennox crafts songs out of the mingling and flow between uncertain and familiar textures. At times, bits of ‘50s teenage pop and ‘60s psychedelia seem to arise like life preservers in the experimental wash, creating a fresh nostalgia that sweetly powers the whole affair. Although the sound rarely strays from its pop sensibilities, the music perhaps would best be approached more like ambient electronic music. If you pay attention to stuff like the interaction between instrumental layers, rather than waiting for songs to neatly develop and then politely resolve themselves, “Person Pitch” becomes a much more rewarding album.
This is not to say that the whole album is a series of Panda Bear’s experimental fancies and random samples with a few crumbs of melody thrown in to keep our attention. The unapologetically happy “Bros” humbly towers over the album as the centerpiece track, surviving at full speed for 12:30 without tiring. ‘50s pop vocals, saturated in reverb, play freely on top of a repetitive jangly instrumental bed for most of the tune, just enough samples fluttering about to keep things interesting. The song then gracefully shifts into an extended coda reminiscent of Animal Collective’s “Winter’s Love” with waves of liquid vocals riding on top of the simple skeleton of two violently strummed acoustic guitar chords. Samples of hooting owls, crying babies, thunder and fireworks fill out the already burgeoning mix.
“Take Pills” unfolds in a similar, though less epic, vein. Starting with pensive, albeit sunny, harmonies that recall the Beach Boys, the song then transforms into some sort of poppy psychadelic parade march about not taking anti-depressants. “Good Girl/Carrots” fulfills a similar sort of patter, as Lennox morphs a furious bongo beat into a soulful ‘50s teenage pop melody (with samples of what sounds like someone munching carrots forming part of the percussion).
The remainder of “Person Pitch” feels a bit more subdued, with subtler transitions and gentler sonic manipulations. The aforementioned “Comfy in Nautica” starts the album with slow handclaps and chanting, with Lennox intoning some sort of anthem to innocent hedonism; requisite whale-song drones join in the harmonies. “I’m Not,” which was originally released with “Comfy in Nautica” as a single, locks into a slow, ethereal groove, with a simple beat propelling the misty vocals.
The mysterious “Search For Delicious” resembles Animal Collective’s “Must be a Treeman” and the ambient “Baleen Sample.” Electronic seagull calls crackle underneath the bizarrely manipulated vocals, perhaps serving as an odd interlude between the smug, adolescent “Carrots” and the humble “Ponytail.” “Ponytail” brings the album to a sober and satisfied conclusion. While the unassuming final track is a bit anticlimactic and disappointing on its own, it fits as a neat final statement to wrap up such a careening album.
Like much of “Person Pitch,” “Ponytail” and “I’m Not” might have trouble surviving on their own as pop songs. These songs on their own would risk getting lost in their own distortion, and a few tracks, frankly, seem to spread a little too thin after a few minutes; within the context of the whole album, however, every piece fits a somehow logical niche.
Listen to “Person Pitch” the whole way through, preferably on headphones. Even if the repetition and elusive level of the melodies don’t deliver instant gratification, the warm atmosphere keeps the music pleasant enough for repeated listens until the album makes sense. This is a comfortable album to get immersed in, and, if you don’t find the bizarre samples and distorted vocals alienating, an awesome summer record at the same time. This is probably the happiest “headphone record” you will find anytime soon — music for withdrawing into the deep, dark, sunny, smiling part of your psyche that you always feared you had.