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Panda Bear and Sonic Boom
Reset Ed Power , August 17th, 2022 07:57

One of the Animal Collective plus half of Spaceman 3 mutiplied by a sack of mid-century pop samples equals a ray of sunshine for Ed Power

Alien v Predator, Batman v Superman, David Bowie v Mick Jagger. There is a long history of superstar match-ups which read as heavenly on paper only to prove hellish in execution (when a trench-coated Bowie leaps into frame in slow motion in the ‘Dancing In The Street’ video, twenty years of credibility evaporate in twenty nanoseconds). But disappointment is kept at bay throughout Reset, a fast and furry-ious alliance between two enduring luminaries of indie psychedelia: Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) and former Spacemen 3 driving force Pete Kember (Sonic Boom).

Reset is a power-pop concept album as well as a meeting of kindred spirits and fellow ex-pats (the two are long-term residents of Portugal). It is built around loops culled from the intros to rock ’n roll 45s from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Eddie Cochran’s ‘Three Steps To Heaven’ and The Everly Brothers ‘Love Of My Life’ are among the tunes lovingly purloined. Hammered into strange new shapes, these wonky samples serve as launch pads for Lennox’s Everlasting Gobstopper pop and Kember’s maximalist production.

It’s a lot. Harmonies are poured atop melodies atop lyrics that read like the Beach Boys ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ fed into one of those algorithmic AI art generators (“Everyday, a little bit longer / Every way, a little bit stronger,” chirrups Lennox on ‘Everyday’). Occasionally it is perhaps too much. Were doo-wop psych-pop opener ‘Gettin’ To The Point’ any more joyous, it would risk structural damage to the listener’s pleasures receptors.

Gradually, though, this bright and breezy team-up is revealed to have a chillier side. By the time we get to the sixth track, ‘Whirlpool’, Lennox’s effervescence has taken on a sinister hue. He doesn’t sound happy so much as maniacal (“Whirlpool, pull me / deeper than down”). Kember, meanwhile, is a wry presence throughout. On mid-tempo moments such as the Troggs-sampling ‘Go On’, his baritone doesn’t compliment Lennox so much as push back against the demonic cheeriness.

This isn’t the first occasion the two have worked together. Kember produced Lennox’s solo records Tomboy (2011) and Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper (2015) while Lennox guested on Kember’s 2020 record, All Things Being Equal.

Their new project finds the duo sharing equal billing – and with good reason. Reset is flush with Animal Collective’s blitzing jauntiness. But Kember’s droller sensibility serves as a crucial counterpoint. He is a spike of vinegar drizzled into a bottomless fountain of soda pop. And if arguably too one-note to constitute a stone-cold triumph, the album serves as a charming side-bar to two stellar careers. It is a collaboration that soars without ever quite getting so close to the sun that its wings start to melt.