Tomboy brings out the grizzly in Panda Bear

Tomboy’s darker, sparser sound sets it apart from Panda Bear’s previous work.

By Lyndsey McKenna

The latest album from Noah Lennox, the mastermind behind Panda Bear, has been in the making for quite a while. Originally slated for release some time in 2010, Tomboy is the follow-up to 2007’s critically acclaimed, instant classic Person Pitch. However, the album’s delay really isn’t shocking. In that span of time, Panda Bear, along with the rest of Animal Collective, managed not only to release a critically acclaimed album and experimental film, but also to tour extensively in larger venues and during prime time slots at festivals.

Panda Bear did begin unveiling Tomboy bit by bit beginning last summer. The first single from the album, “Tomboy,” was released in July 2010 and was followed by two additional singles later that year. The question of when, or even if, the entirety of Tomboy would see the light of day was on the minds of many, especially in the wake of the superb Person Pitch.

However, Tomboy has finally surfaced, and it truly demonstrates the experimental and creative capabilities of Panda Bear. The album’s opener, “You Can Count on Me,” is drenched in intricate sonic layering, yet maintains a simple, airy tune. Lennox croons, “Know you can count on me,” then later urges, “Know at least I’ll try,” his voice projecting a sentiment of sincerity. It’s a statement easy to believe when proclaimed by vocals that are soothing and radiant. “Tomboy,” a song that is propelled by strong guitar instrumentation with ceaseless looping, immediately follows.

“Surfer’s Hymn” opens with what sounds like the musical equivalent of waves crashing on a distant shore. The song has an incessant twinkling sound that remains in the background throughout its four-minute duration, and the merging of the two opposing soundscapes creates a lush, melodious piece. Compare that with “Slow Motion,” a piece that seems to draw from the strong beats of hip-hop, the reverb of dub, and is a bit reminiscent of Animal Collective’s “What Would I Want? Sky” from its 2009 EP Fall Be Kind.

What sets Tomboy apart from Panda Bear’s previous works, especially Person Pitch, is that it showcases a darker, sparser sound. “Scheherezade” has loud, amplified synths that echo throughout the song and evoke a sentiment of solitude, and “Drone” is an eerie piece whose name reflects the overall sound. Panda Bear recorded the album in a basement studio, and the feeling of an underground, solemn, and isolated location can be heard in the album’s sound.

Tomboy comes in the wake of Animal Collective’s 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavilion, which topped countless critics’ year-end lists despite its January release. It’s a warm, welcoming, and poignant album that attracted many listeners who would not have ordinarily given Animal Collective a listen. Lennox’s vocals hearken back to the pop music of yesteryear, which is also evident in “Walkabout” by Atlas Sound, a sunny track that features Panda Bear and seems to fit in with the pop-tinged stylings of Merriweather Post Pavilion.

However, Lennox’s light and carefree vocals give way to a darker and more atmospheric sound on Tomboy. Lennox is able to propel the music into a darker realm that differs from his usual sound, yet still reflects what listeners have come to expect from one of Animal Collective’s key members. The experimental sounds are still there, and the album is a cohesive work that ebbs and flows. Due to its slow transformations and the flow between songs, Tomboy is an album that should be listened to as a whole. Above all else, the album’s innovative and accessible sound makes it timeless.