I am a huge fan of Panda Bear and of Animal Collective, so, as you can imagine, I was beyond excited when the Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper came out earlier this month. It was everything I hoped it would be and not quite what I expected given my relative disappointment with 2012’s Centipede (which I’m still grieving over nearly 3 years later). Grim Reaper has all of the elements of my favourite Animal Collective songs, but feels more relaxed, concise and perhaps grown up than I am used to hearing from the Noah Lennox catalogue.
Let’s back it up for a moment – Panda Bear is Noah Lennox, who is also a member of Animal Collective. Lennox layers drones, grooves and licks into dense waves of sounds. His signature melodic vocals are women into the sonic fabric, his lyrics often vague and repetitive, serving as part of the overall whole rather than a focal point. The lyrics on Grim Reaper stick to that model, but point toward concerns of domesticity and adulthood more than Person Pitch (2007) or even the more-recent Tomboy (2012).
The album starts with Lennox’s strongest, loudest and most beat-heavy tracks before wilting off to the more serious and beautiful songs. “Mr. Noah” is one of the early tracks and has the Strawberry Jam feel that I was hoping to hear. “Tropic of Cancer”, is about the passing of Lennox’s dad, with a harp (or a synthesized harp sound) at the front of the mix and haunting lyrics (“You can’t come back / you won’t come back). His writing style is still there – short, whimsical lines – but with a tone that reads as more serious than I’m used to hearing from Panda Bear. “Lonely Wanderer” has a similar beauty but appealed to me for a different reason. Lennox samples Claude Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1 to quite perfectly heighten his depiction of the isolated lonely wanderer. Ironically, learning that someone I think is a total badass shares what I thought was one my most nerdy interests reduced my own feelings of isolation.
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is an amazing balance of funky and pretty and is exactly what I want to be listening to right now.