REVIEW: Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper


Photo by Daniel Arnold

Panda Bear continues to innovate and expand his musical arsenal.

Perhaps the title, “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper” (PBVSGM), should have hinted that this would be a personal and introspective album for Panda Bear’s now long and accredited career. Yet, early singles like “Mr. Noah,” and “Boys Latin” suggested that it was to be one of the more straightforward and accessible releases by the Animal Collective co-founder. It is a statement to Noah Lennox’s song craft to say that PDVSGM is indeed both, and one of the highlights of his career.

A relief to anyone mulled down in the dense psychedelic slur that was “Centipede Hz”, PBVSGM is a concise and enjoyable listen. It does not stray away from the experimentation and artistic integrity that has always made Lennox’s music so compelling. It is rather a refinement, and thankfully a flexing, of his songwriting abilities.

Highlights like “Crosswords” remind one of the Beach Boys’ crooning in “Carolina, No” from their 1966 “Pet Sounds”. The types of harmonies and vocal arrangements characteristic of Brian Wilson’s work can be heard influencing many of these tracks, like the ear-candy back-and-forth vocalizations of “Boys Latin.” Still, the squishy and melting production from legendary Spaceman 3 member Sonic Boom (highlighted by in-between song segments of squelching bursts of psychedelia) give the tracks the day-glow feel that the album artwork promises.

At the center of the album, Lennox gives us “Come To Your Sense,” “Tropic of Cancer” and “Lonely Wanderer,” three of the more candid and focused pieces of his career. The subtleties of the gently changing melodies and fantastic vocal performances grow more endearing with every listen.

“Come To Your Senses” is the kind of high integrity pop song that can only come from conveying so much content in such a tight package, while “Tropic of Cancer” is a candid and personal lullaby. Where Tropic leaves off, “Lonely Wanderer” carries us into a dream where we drift to sleep, letting us again be reminded that this is a Panda bear album – fuzzy and ethereal.

Not since 2009’s classic “Merriweather Post Pavilion” has Lennox made such an accessible and finely honed artistic statement. The depth and songwriting, although not always fully appreciated on first listen, will leave its listeners with a lasting experience, one that will make PBVSGM a significant pillar of Lennox’s career.