Panda Bear

Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

Under his Panda Bear moniker, Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox makes music that straddles the line between pop and abstraction. On “Crosswords,” the fourth track off his new album, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, Lennox marries a dribbling keyboard sequence with a frog-like sample to form a nuanced arrangement filled with panning sounds and trippy builds. But thanks to his assured, layered vocals and a dubby bass line, “Crosswords” also kind of sounds like ’90s alt-rockers 311. In fact, it’s that blend of the strange and the recognizable that encapsulates so much of Panda Bear’s appeal; there’s something both immediately familiar and instantly surprising about the songs he creates. Take lead single “Mr. Noah,” a spacey, druggy creation that lopes along by way of its fuzzy percussive element; it’s at once instantly catchy and undeniably stoney. Elsewhere, “Boys Latin” combines a sludgey bass loop with Lennox’s affectionately incomprehensible sing-song, resulting in something that sounds like both a twisted dance party and a child’s fever dream. Still, Reaper’s greatest achievement comes by way of “Tropic of Cancer,” where Lennox’s billowing vocals float above a gently plucked harp and Beach Boys–channeling harmony. The song — a wistful commentary on Lennox’s father’s 2004 passing — is part haunting austerity, part doo-wop homage and so beautifully constructed it’s almost impossible to pull apart. A testament to its title, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is adventurous and precocious and inquisitive and eerie. Luckily, in Lennox’s head all these elements seem to coexist in stunning harmony.

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