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Panda Bear

+ {Jane}

Camouflaged under the umbrella of acid-folk/psychedelic outfit ANIMAL COLLECTIVE, the colourful PANDA BEAR (born Noah Benjamin Lennox, July 17, 1978, Baltimore, Maryland) was also a singer/multi-instrumentalist behind some quirky and profound solo sets.
Raised in Pennsylvania, and graduating from Boston University, Panda side-lined his ‘Collective work alongside Avey Tare and Co. with limited-edition CDs, kicking off on his self-titled PANDA BEAR {*5} concept in 1999. Building on his confidence as part of the enterprising ANIMAL COLLECTIVE (namely for post-millennium sets `Spirit They’re Gone…’, `Danse Manatee’, `Here Comes The Indian’, `Campfire Songs’ and `Sung Tongs’), PANDA BEAR and his Paw Tracks imprint let loose his debut set proper, YOUNG PRAYER (2004) {*6}.
Not exactly glowing with picturesque track names, his experimentation went as far as to un-title 9 pieces of varying degrees of drifting sounds. The death of his father had left him in a place of fragility, echoed by a mournful acceptance that gave some dirges a chameleon-ic facelift. Add to that his kinetic-dance set, BERSERKER (2005) {*6} – as JANE (alongside DJ Casio/Scott Mou) – and the ‘Bear’s escape to ambient land was in motion; finale piece `Swan’ lasted nearly 25 minutes. Incidentally, the JANE collective had two previous CD-R outings in `Paradise’ and `Coconuts’, both released in 2002.
When ANIMAL COLLECTIVE were duly finding an audience to appreciate their “Pet Sounds” (from album `Feels’ onwards), PANDA BEAR also cashed in with some “Good Vibrations”, courtesy of the harmonious PERSON PITCH (2007) {*8}. Widely accepted that The BEACH BOYS were the conscious legacy left to him by his late father, Noah’s arcane tapestry of delights were in celebratory mood here. Taking up over half of the set, both 12-minute centrepieces, `Bros’ and `Good Girl – Carrots’, were layered and textured beyond belief without meandering too much into a forest of no return.
PANDA BEAR’s breakthrough into the top echelons of the charts (both in America and the UK), came in the shape of the excellent TOMBOY (2011) {*9}. Crediting SONIC BOOM as engineer, the BRIAN WILSON effect was again in evidence on the likes of `You Can Count On Me’, the gear-shifting title track and finale `Benfica’, the latter named to attribute the basement recording origins of the set in Lisbon, Portugal – his new-found home. One voice dubbed rather than five Beach-combers in sync, there was a certain grace and hallucinogenic appeal to semi-classics `Slow Motion’, `Surfers Hymn’ and `Last Night At The Jetty’.
Deliberately darker, but not dizzier than his previous solo effort, PANDA BEAR MEETS THE GRIM REAPER (2015) {*9} was said to be inspired by the likes of minimalist STEVE REICH. Indeed, classical composer Debussy and his “Arabesque No.1” (as performed by Francois-Joel Thiollier) was segued into the heavenly but schizoid `Lonely Wanderer’. Other memorable samples that stuck out were the GODLEY & CREME-esque `Tropic Of Cancer’, which raided fragments of “The Nutcracker”, while `Crosswords’ half-inched The Soul Searchers’ “Ashley’s Roachclip”. With not a dry dirge in the house (or hut), the multi-layered hypnotic hums of `Come To Your Senses’ (plus `Selfish Gene’) or the almost dance-floor `Principe Real’ serve up a smorgasbord of serenity. An album to play forever in space time continuum, PANDA BEAR scratched at surfaces only true pop experimentalists dare to tread; example `Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker’. As if further bouncing off satellites, The BEACH BOYS-meets-DEVO-esque `Boys Latin’ was sublime and, as to rub salt into the wounds of other pseudo-psychs out there, respective tracks one and two deliver potential all-time greats in `Sequential Circuits’ and `Mr Noah’.
A little momentum lost in PANDA BEAR’s hibernation of sorts, the buoyant BUOYS (2019) {*8} – a 31-minute mini-set for all intents and purposes – was something of damp squib in comparison to the musician’s previous highlight. The record reunited him with producer Rusty Santos, so the reason to its commercial dip was mystifying; maybe the fact that the Bear’s ANIMAL COLLECTIVE had posted a rare flip-flop in “Tangerine Reef” was a concern. However, if dream-pop musos were looking for a modern-day 10CC-meets-BEACH BOYS soundboard, then tracks `Token’, `Dolphin’, `Cranked’, `Inner Monologue’ and `Master’ would undoubtedly float their boat.
© MC Strong/MCS Jan2015-Jun2019

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