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Sensibly Disconnected: A Review of Panda Bear’s Tomboy

Posted on 17 May 11 REVIEWS | No Comments
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If Animal Collective is the trip, Panda Bear may well be the vacation…to the West Coast, falling from the sky.

Before you read this review, I recommend that you go book a trip to the West Coast and invest in an activity that allows you to safely fall out of the sky within view of the Pacific Ocean. Parasailing will suffice if you can’t stomach jumping out of an airplane. All that matters is that you convince the individual supervising your little endeavor that you have to have headphones taped to your head.

When he inevitably asks why, just say, “I have the new Panda Bear album and this is how you’re supposed to do things when you get the new Paw Tracks released Panda Bear album.””Everybody’s doing it” works too. If the instructor’s worth it, he or she will undoubtedly understand.

As the airplane ascends from the runway, drown your struggling nerves listening to Noah Lennox repeat in the opening track, “know you can count on me, know you can count on me.” You’ll forget about his legendary Person Pitch and see a side of Lennox more withdrawn from the dark subtleties. Never mind  the plunge you will soon take as the luscious reverberations of Tomboy resonate over the engines, carrying you above  lopsided grids of houses and poor excuses for order. What you’ve heard so far seems to embrace a swirling chaos. It makes sense to you, these wavering guitars so reminiscent of the West Coast beneath. You long to take a leap.

Slow Motion” has a funny uncertainty about it. Phasing through and around your eardrums, it seems like Lennox’s voice is all that’s steady. Much like the mellow and aptly-named “Surfer’s Hymn,” the vocals coexist in a separate harmony with the music, pushing you right along blindly. If your jump supervisor needs to have some words to prepare you, shush him until the waves cease crashing, literally.


It might be a bold summation, but I believe that Lennox took an impressive step with these songs, shrugging the aforementioned sensibility for some mixed emotions.


An analog saturation starts to take you a different place. Lennox’s guitar and sparse percussive elements in “Last Night at the Jetty” seem to melt like an exhausted tape. Ringing in with some sensible pop harmonies, he sings:

I don’t want to describe something that I’m not
I don’t want to hide the hopes that I have
I want to enjoy what’s meant to enjoy
Not try to find slights and slurs to employ

What a truly remarkable moment! Arguably, never before in Panda Bear have we heard such an honest use of heartfelt vocabulary in this direct manner.

The songs “Drone,” “Alsation Darn,” and “Scheherazade” are, to me, a part of Tomboy alone with themselves. Maybe it’s the moment you remove reason from the act in which you will soon engage. You know it will gain you respect, from others and for yourself, and that gives you the peace and determination. It might be a bold summation, but I believe that Lennox took an impressive step with these songs, shrugging the aforementioned sensibility for some mixed emotions. Pushing us even further to the brink with “Friendship Bracelet,” the narrative of your journey unfolds through the reverb and punchy, driven beats.

photo by abby portner

Into “Afterburner:” step up to the edge, holding on to whatever you can. The pulse in your ears isn’t your heartbeat; it’s the first moment on Tomboy that you’ve felt compelled to exorcise the Ian Curtis demons within you in the form of dance. There is a flutter inside the track in a few places that reminds you of a dragonfly’s ascent from a branch. Much like the flight of the insect, at exactly 2:40 you will begin your step from the security of man’s metal bird and plummet. The pulse you’re hearing now over driving guitars and bass could be, in these moments, your heartbeat. But don’t shrug off Lennox’s ability to make you want to breakdance with the clouds, showing the state of California who is the proverbial boss. The ocean no longer has the power to sink you, not too unlike the swells of (more) reverb and muddy drum tracks earlier in the album. It’s clear that you’re flying to meet your Mother, Earth.

As is one of my habits, I like to pull the parachute and leave the last song to the interpretation of the listener when I believe it is worthy. What compelled me to encourage you to take this journey is the sense that I came away with from it…it gave me a friendly challenge to face a fear, not by showing me my capability to do so, but by demonstrating how at peace and in tune with myself I would be if I could take my own general leap.

If you listen to no other song on this album, listen to the final song, “Benfica.” It will not give you the angsty passion of an Animal Collective track. I concede that I was in a sleep-like trance before the end was upon me. If Animal Collective is the trip, Panda Bear may well be the vacation…to the West Coast, falling from the sky.

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