Don’t be fooled by the silly album title. While it may sound like the title assigned to a weird episode of Adventure Time, there is definitely a significant amount of worth that can be assigned to taking the fifty minutes necessary to take in Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. However, for those who are interested, there’s something you need to know about Panda Bear (apart from the fact that his music is pretty trippy). It can be extrapolated (from given evidence) that Panda Bear (the music-making alias of Noah Lennox) is possibly the main driving force behind his primary musical project: Animal Collective. Therefore, Grim Reaper could almost be considered to be a direct sequel to the band’s latest work.
The band have always intrigued me more as a group rather than individuals but, from Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (Lennox’s fifth solo record), it is clear that Panda Bear’s contribution to AC is incredibly significant. Such songs as “My Girls”, “Lion in a Coma”, “Today’s Supernatural” and “Brother Sport” (all featuring on the Collective’s latest two records, Merriweather Post Pavilion or Centipede Hz) heavily feature the close harmonies, electronics and call and response which could be deemed to be Lennox’s calling cards. Either way, they can all be found in abundance throughout Grim Reaper.
Panda Bear, effectively, has managed something that he hasn’t done since the inception of his musical career: he’s hit a bump in the road. Centipede Hz, Animal Collective’s latest record, turned out to be a comparative dud and it seems to have hit Lennox pretty hard (as referenced in his lyrics which are shown later on in this review). Animal Collective (for a long time) were at the forefront of this weird, alternative music scene and with their last recording, they seemed to drop the ball. It’s a whole new world for Lennox, and it’s one he seems to have grabbed by the short and curlies with Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper.
“Boys Latin” is an album highlight as an Aboriginal sound is found due to what appears to be a looped didgeridoo and clapstick piece that continues throughout the song. These two instruments (of Aborigine origin) have been included in what appears to be an unlimited pallet of instrumentation that knows no bounds. What really grips though, is the constantly spiralling vocals that (in between words) will spin from one ear to the other, over and over, sending you onto an auditory inspired trip that (for me) is partially inspired by the tunnel in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (though much more positive and less nightmare-inducing). “Boys Latin” is pure brilliance; I give you my word.
The only, at all, difficult section of Grim Reaper comes with a combined 13 minutes of “Come to Your Senses” and “Tropic of Cancer” in the middle of the album. The two pieces, which are lengthy when compared to the rest of the album, give the listener a challenging slog and yet, on the other side, the two pieces are incredibly rewarding. The trippy nature of Panda Bear’s compositions is almost at the peak of its potency here and as soon as “Tropic of Cancer” appears in your ears, you become aware of something rather odd. This oddity is a detuned “The Last Post” (a bugle piece) which is coupled with a wind that is surprisingly reminiscent of “My Girls”. This is what commences the second half of this near-quarter of an hour spiral with an epicentre that consists of a harp-like riff that repeats throughout the piece, is ensnaring and keeps the listener ensconced as Lennox creates something akin to an auditory underwater cityscape. It’s something you won’t come across every day and forms one of the core strengths of Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper.
The real individual highlight, though, on the album is “Mr. Noah”. It’s a track with a heavy beat that relies on a bowel destroying bass part and abundant use of harmonies to forcibly make you enjoy yourself. There is very little you can do to stop yourself; so you may as well just give in to the allure of this alternative poppiness. Lyrically, the song could be considered to be about how Centipede Hz was a comparative critical failure and so, Bear is only going to write music when he feels the creative urge (“This dog got bit on a leg / He got a really big chip on a leg / Don’t want to get out of bed / Unless he feel like it justified”). Furthermore, it’s also clear that he doesn’t want it to be thought that he (or his Animal band-mates) write their music under the influence of any drugs (“Here comes the loaf again / Drip a lot, drop a lot / Become an oaf again / Trip a lot, trip a lot”), despite its psychedelic nature. Overall, a brilliant song… Seriously.
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is an album that is consistently good. On one final pass-by before publishing this review, it becomes apparent that “Lonely Wanderer” is supremely sublime, “Acid Wash” is a trippy piece and the entirety of the album is great. What Panda Bear (and his band) is consistent in, is making GOOD weird music (though not as weird as, say, Sophie (see “Bipp” or “Hey QT”)), this can be another arrow in the quiver of one of the most critically acclaimed musicians around today (if you ignore the hiccup that is Centipede Hz). If you’re going to listen to one Animal Collective off-shoot, I’d suggest Panda Bear; bypass Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks!
Release: 9th January 2015
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia and Experimental Electronic
Previous Works: Person Pitch (2007) and Merriweather Post Pavilion (Animal Collective – 2009)
Contemporaries: Animal Collective, Caribou and Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks
Influences: The Beatles, Oneohtrix Point Never and Pink Floyd
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