Panda Bear – Tomboy (2011)

by Andrew Kaster

Tomboy begins shrouded in uncertainty. Noah Lennox’s words – “know you can count on me” – sound suspiciously like “no, you can’t count on me.” It’s the first album in which Lennox seems to have no idea how he wants to affect the listener, which is something he has never had trouble with before. Even though the instrumentation is more immediate, discernible, and intimate, his vocals sound more distant than ever. These are the same vocals that took the foreground of past albums, as Lennox has chosen to pile on the reverb and overdubs to nearly obscene amounts. In many ways, Tomboy is a soul-bearing experience for Lennox; a point of contention for those who aren’t particularly tuned to the same spiritual compass as he is.

It’s an album torn down the middle; half of the tracks are beat-heavy dance numbers, while the other half consists of near-madrigal drones. Repetition plays an even greater role than before here, as Lennox’s appeal on this record seems to weigh solely on whether or not his drones reach epiphany. While they most often do, there are times I’m left waiting for the sunlight to break through the heavily clouded atmosphere of some of these tracks. Needless to say, Tomboy works better as a headphone-listening album, drowning you in its vast ocean of sounds and rhythms. However, swimming through this album can be a bit of a stagnant experience when the tides are dull and repetitive, relying more on a polished sound than substantive songwriting.

Tomboy... out 4/12

That being said, Tomboy’s more droning tracks (such as the aptly named “Drone” or “Scheherezade”) are as cold and indirect as a cathedral choir. While beautiful, Lennox’s vocals are so distant from the listener that it’s hard to feel like Lennox is singing to you and not at you. On the other hand, groovier numbers such as “Slow Motion” and “Last Night at the Jetty” provide a simpler and more enjoyable approach to Lennox’s pop sensibilities. These tracks aren’t so aggressively hypnotic, allowing them to slowly work their way into your consciousness. These are also the songs that seem to have the most direction; they are songs that don’t get lost in the abrasive “beauty” of Lennox’s vocals.

Tomboy is nothing at all uncharacteristic or surprising coming from Lennox. His same sense of slathered sunshine and “good vibes” accompany some truly fantastic melodies. However, too often the album becomes directionless and tedious. Whereas Person Pitch was something to piece together (or, strip apart), Tomboy is an album that comes pre-assembled. With fewer moments to extract and absorb, this album simply must be taken as is. Lennox is preventing himself from spacing out and adventuring, as sounds that should appear and then evaporate return again and again to a degree of where it becomes overwhelming. Criticism aside, Tomboy is still terribly catchy whenever it gains focus (and more often than not, it does). And despite the coldness that permeates some of these tracks, Lennox still allows his electronic compositions to retain a sort of naturalistic spirit.

If anything, Lennox’s latest is an album that walks listeners through the same motions, proving his heart rests at home; somewhere quaint and cozy and not too far out of the ordinary. If ordinary life is a trip, then Tomboy is the drug (even if its high wears off rather quickly).

Panda Bear – Alsatian Darn

Panda Bear – You Can Count On Me

Panda Bear – Last Night at the Jetty

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