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Panda Bear
Tomboy Charlie Frame , April 15th, 2011 12:46

Calling Tomboy a much-anticipated release would be like describing Charlie Sheen as a fellow in need of a warm camomile and a good night's sleep. Rabid speculation has surrounded Noah Lennox's third solo album ever since its announcement way back in May last year. But it wasn't just the Animal Collective hardcore trying to hunt down illicit promos and bootlegs ahead of time. (One of the nutters tried to get in touch with me the other day; I mean, who the fuck am I? How do they know?!) This 'gotta-hear-it' clamour follows the success of 2007's Person Pitch which was widely hailed as the Animal Collective album even Animal Collective haters can love (or at least grudgingly accept).

The powers that be have therefore employed the kind of diligent security measures reserved for Area 51 press conferences or a new Radiohead LP by allowing only one digital stream per reviewer. I was sneaky and asked for a second one, so you can rest assured what you're about to read is an accurate and fully-formed critique of this record. I must first confess, though, that I didn't much care for Person Pitch.

It was a mess, a sloppy jumble of disparate loops haphazardly arranged and flooded with reverb. It contained none of the freeform savant glee I'd come to associate with classic Animal Collective material. Save for bandmate Avey Tare's trademark caterwaul, it ticked all the boxes in the Big List of Reasons People Usually Hate Animal Collective: coarse, muddy production values; hip/twee lyrical content; discordant arrangements; heavy repetition that bored rather than entranced. But hey, your experience may differ — I'm just surprised it got the free pass from the Animal Collective naysayers.

Luckily, there are very few reasons not to like Tomboy; hopefully Animal Collective lovers and haters alike will agree. Here Noah eschews the more dissonant idiosyncrasies that have fuelled his detractors' ire, while maintaining the imaginative sparkle that endears him to the rest of us. Tomboy is closer in style to full-band releases such as last year's excellent Fall Be Kind EP than his previous loop'n'sample or chant-based solo experiments. Mooted changes of direction — such as the reported trad-rock influence of Nirvana and the White Stripes — are difficult to spot.

What is apparent, though, is a more streamlined assimilation of all the classic Panda Bear touchstones: 60s psych-pop, drone, techno and folk. So while it's unlikely we'll see Panda Bear covering 'Seven Nation Army' any time soon, 'Last Night At The Jetty' does bear some resemblance to the Beach Boys' 'Kiss Me Baby' were it played swinging upside-down from a circus trapeze. Take that as you will, but the song contains some of his most transcendent harmonies yet. Melody lines meander and feint around the listener, leading us to second-guess their next move and then taunting us with a cathartic breakdown of "I know, I know, I know".

Tribute also gets paid to the Beatles on 'Benfica', the album's closer. Fittingly named after Noah's local football team, it reimagines George Harrison's 'Long Long Long' as epic stadium chant. Whether it's a crowd sample or some unique studio trick is unclear, but an ostensible 65,000 people join in on this lopsided sporting anthem, their cries careening across the bright Lisbon sky.

Psych-pop influences aside, the title track is as techno as they come, highlighting Panda Bear's dance influence even more than Noah's minimalist work as part of experimental duo, Jane. Whipped along by a menacing 4/4 beat reminiscent of ancient acid classics like Underground Resistance's 'Seawolf', Noah's voice takes on the role of polysynth, eventually getting sucked under by a maelstrom of guitar.

The dance influence continues on 'Afterburner', with its galloping bassline and tribal polyrhythms, while those seeking a return to Person Pitch won't be disappointed by 'Surfer's Hymn' and 'Friendship Bracelet' — both of which are much easier to stomach when swallowed along with the rest of the album. Ambient respite comes from the aptly titled 'Drone' as well as 'Scheherazade' — a quasi-arabesque vocal piece accompanied by a single tolling piano chord and insidious serpentine whoosh.

Tomboy finds Panda Bear at the peak of his powers. It encapsulates Lennox's previous work and influences while pushing his agenda ever-forward. By shedding many of his more irksome tropes, he lets his true craftsmanship shine through, making this one of the most essential Animal Collective releases to date.