Mystery in music is an important but overlooked aspect that tends to be lost in this internet era full of instant twitter updates and album leaks. Mystery makes the audience ponder. Psychedelic pop musician Panda Bear has maintained his mysterious status for over a decade now. Always known as his moniker, Panda Bear, the leader of electro-freak folk group Animal Collective, real name Noah Lennox, has more or less kept to himself, even removing himself to the esoteric shores of Lisbon, Portugal. This type of mystery causes fans to get involved, ask questions. Like, what is Panda Bear doing right now? Probably consuming hallucinogenic jellyfish on a beach in Portugal or recording himself slowly clapping two chunks of wet rock together. One can only speculate. Of course, realistically, he is probably just eating a bowl of cereal with his wife and two children listening to something like Brian Wilson’s I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times. Regardless, Lennox, would probably like to keep us guessing. That is just what his latest album Tomboy does. Repetitive yet unpredictable, lazy but in your face, Tomboy is a study in sound and song—and Lennox blurs that line with apparent ease. Four years out from Person Pitch, his last solo full length, the new album elaborates on Panda Bear’s far-out sound, yet somehow adds a level of accessibility without dumbing down his music. He gave us our first taste of Tomboy when he released the title track last July, a track which combines pulsing sub bass with a linear organ-toned synthesizer sound before erupting with Lennox’s thick hypnotic vocal echoes.
Since then the 31 year-old musician has released three additional singles, “You Can Count On Me,” with it’s sprawling guitar chords and hugely harmonic vocals shrouded with pounds of reverb, “Last Night At The Jetty,” a bouncing Flaming Lips-like pop track that perpetually reassures the listener “I know we had a good time,” and “Surfers Hymn,” swelling with delicate ocean waves in the background, balanced by heaving shakers in the foreground and a pillowy four to the floor kick drum. Tomboy often builds on the repetitiveness of techno and dance music, but paired with massive reverberated vocals and more discernable pop structures than most dance music, the tracks take on a hypnotizing appeal that go beyond just interesting sound. The record is split in half by “Drone,” a four minute long meditative piece, with, as it’s name suggests, droning synthesizer tones that range from high pitched sharp frequencies to low, warm tones while Lennox’s elongated vocals guide the track. The remainder of the album takes on a more sedate tone on lonely tracks like “Scheherezade,” with its repeating piano chords that seem to quiet but never dissipate entirely, the sunsoaked “Friendship Bracelet,” and the album’s hymn-like closer “Benfica” an almost spiritual track swirling with static wind samples and layers of distant vocal harmonies that seem to breeze forward in the mix.
But the highlight of the album comes as the original b-side to the “Tomboy” single, “Slow Motion, which combines a hip-hop beat with mutant handclaps, bombastic snarls of sound, and liquid explosions, creating a lazy, brain waving ride through an ethereal jungle. Equal parts song and soundscape, “Slow Motion” is a gem among singles that demands the listener pay attention to the multiplicity of influences inlaid. Lennox brought together a melting pot of different sounds and genres—from hip-hop and sharp electronic synthesizer, to 1960’s psychedelic pop with Beach Boys-like vocal harmonies—to create Tomboy. The trick that makes this album work is that he takes these vastly different musical styles and paints them all with the same color palette of hazy reverb, clacking sun soaked echoes, and driving, repeating rhythms. Listened to casually Tomboy might fly by like an echoey and featureless blur, but listened to with attentiveness, and maybe a good set of headphones, the subtle details, trancey drones, and clicking rhythms amass to show off Panda Bear’s distinct song crafting style and attitude of content with darkness.