I can’t be alone in thinking that Person Pitch (2007), Panda Bear’s ecstatically received and third solo album, is a bit over-praised. Don’t misunderstand me: I think it’s a pretty great album. In fact, it’s a lovely cycle of spiraling and reverb-soaked melodies, though for the life of me, I can’t figure out how that distinguishes it from a lot of what Animal Collective had done up to that point (particularly on Feels). It’s been influential, but the fact that Person Pitch’s influence can be easily spotted within five years of the albums release suggests that influence may be a natural byproduct of the wild acclaim it received, whether it was deserved or not. If an album with a lot of easy-to-copy, superficial elements is named one of the best of the decade, it’s really a matter of time before a whole slew of bandwagon-jumpers show up.
But again, Person Pitch is pretty great, even if its import is a bit overstated. Likewise, Panda Bear’s long-gestating follow-up, Tomboy, is equally enjoyable, perhaps even more so. Person Pitch’s big songs took 12 minutes to do everything they wanted to. On Tomboy, Panda Bear is content to stick to mostly four-minute songs, occasionally stretching to five and six minutes when he needs a little more time to develop the mood.
Despite Tomboy’s relative track-to-track brevity, Panda Bear manages to work with a broader sonic palate. “Slow Motion” stays true to Panda Bear’s stock signifiers (the heavy reverb, the glacially paced melodies, the occasional, unnecessary synthesizer blurt), but the whole thing is held together with a legitimately gritty beat. Better still are the times when Panda Bear abandons the structural elements of his signature sound and returns to the near formlessness of Young Prayer. “Sheherazade” finds him slowly moaning along with one murmuring chord to hypnotic effect. Then there’s “Drone”, maybe Tomboy’s high point, a gorgeous and powerful example of Panda Bear’s ability to create truly haunting music with little more than a heavily buzzing synth and his voice.
Generally though, Panda Bear stick to what worked for him on Person Pitch; alternately sunny and ghostly pop, kept at a considerable remove from the audience through endless echo and unintelligible lyrics. That may not sound like much of an endorsement, but the enchanting pop underneath all of the distancing effects will keep your attention firmly in place, no matter how spooky the proceedings get.