Noah Lennox (a.k.a Panda Bear) has built a career on making music that seems to actively resist critical thought. Through his work with the anarchically brilliant Animal Collective and his own impressive solo career, he has released records that demand to be felt, rather than thought about. Although the title of his new release Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper might imply that Lennox has unleashed a grim concept album, the record is no more about death than it is about life.
Although the music may not be cerebral, it is undeniably powerful in a way that Lennox’s past releases have only hinted at. Tropic of Cancer, the six minute epic that sits at the centre of the album, is a track of awe-inspiring beauty. Lennox’s voice has never sounded this good, and the rise and fall of the melodies behind his vocal delivery are intoxicatingly lush. It’s a stellar track from a stellar album – the jewel in Lennox’s already dazzling crown.
Those who argue that Lennox’s music is ultimately little more than filler music – a criticism that has been levelled against the artist repeatedly in the past – are missing the point. Lennox is an artist of admirable restraint: his beauty is one that exists behind layers of sound and texture, as the dense Sequential Circuits and Crosswords can attest to.
There is nothing trite or twee about Lennox either, and despite its beauty, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is an album with all the necessary bite. Mr. Noah begins with a flurry of sound, and boasts the most grinding beat of the album. Texturally, it’s an inspired mix between the dark and the light, and shows Lennox’s deft hand when it comes to mixing emotions.
Principe Real and Selfish Gene are further testaments to the man’s skills, although it is album closer Acid Wash that really shows off what Lennox can do. The vocals are almost hymnal in their intensity, and indeed there is something that can only be descried as spiritual about the dizzying heights the track reaches: it’s an atheist’s prayer of a song, ecstatic and orgiastic in all the right ways.
Even the briefest tracks of the album – Davy Jones’ Locker and Shadow of the Colossus run to 35 seconds and 17 seconds respectively – contain a whole world of sonic intrigue. In the shortest of spaces, Lennox opens us up the most impressive of musical journeys, quietly requesting your attention without ever demanding it.
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is an experience unlike many others, and although ending a review by basically writing myself out of a job might seem like a bad idea, there’s no use denying the truth: nothing I could ever write could convey the simple joys of this most emotional release. Quite simply, it has to be heard to be believed.