Panda Bear - Meets Grim Reaper
It doesn't seem all that long ago that Animal Collective were the act on everyone's lips. 2009's breakthrough Merriweather Post Pavilion was fresh and inventive, giving listeners a perfect gateway drug into a weirder, more expressive musical world. Away from his band of fellow critters, frontman Noah Lennox (or Panda Bear as he is known creatively) has made a name making subversive psych-pop records which sound completely, well, out of this world.
Following on from 2011's Tomboy, Lennox is ready to face the ultimate end game – his grim reaper. While work on the album began in Texas some years ago, it was after a life changing move to Portugal that this conceptual sound took its current form. Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is a far more optimistic, colourful listen than the deathly title suggests – this is a record about change and luckily for us, such change reaps incredible results.
Opening with the spiritual chant of 'Sequential Circuits', it soon becomes clear that Lennox has grown confident enough to put his vocals at the forefront rather than bury them in digital mud. The lyrics remain out of reach though: while that trademark tenor remains a distinctive pull, don't expect much more than a slurry of repeated vowels and warped verses. Mid cut 'Boys Latin' takes the idea of psychedelia and just fires it head first into the sun. The track's percussive synth chews itself up from the inside, an impression only built upon by the bizarre cyclonic vocals. On paper it may seem like nonsense, yet it's difficult to be put off when it's all so alluring – even at its most sombre PBMtGR still feels like the product of the hallucinogens you'd find aliens tooting at a far out space party. 'Principe Real' is similarly invigorating, strutting along at its own leisure with synth sounds thrown straight up from the stomach of a rainbow puking unicorn.
Put simply, this is the best Panda Bear record. It's smart, weird fun and for once it's your gut telling you this rather than your brain. Lennox clearly takes inspiration from art beyond music (the seminal videogame Shadow of the Colossus gets a nod) and he isn't afraid to take conventional instrumentation beyond its earthly design. If you were put off by the meandering art pop sketches of the past, now is the perfect time to meet your maker.