The infamous psychedelic synth group, Animal Collective, has always been a unique representation of the endless tug-of-war between the avant-garde and pop that currently dominates that which we call "indie music". What's been unique about Animal Collective is that the two sides of this tug-of-war have always been represented by the two vocalists of the group: Avey Tare and Panda Bear. Panda Bear has always been the voice of blissful melody and poppy nostalgia while Avey Tare has always represented the voice of untamable musical experimentation and production. Although you might never know it from listening to the unifying sound of Animal Collective, the idea that Animal Collective was some kind of a "collaboration" between the two artists had always been at the roots of the band. Unfortunately, to me, the collective sound of their collaboration has always left me feeling a bit underwhelmed by the solo work of these two musicians and Panda Bear's newest record seems to be no exception.
Following up his critically-acclaimed album from 2007, Person Pitch, Panda Bear adds some much appreciated fidelity to the mix in his newest release, but maintains many of the general vibes from his prior album. Tomboy finds Panda Bear diving even deeper into the depths of his laid back, surfer attitude. In one of my favorite tracks from the album, Surfer's Hymn, Panda Bear directly references surfing and finds philosophical consolation in the water and waves in typical Panda Bear style. The percussion rattles and bounces amidst the bubbling synths and soaring melody and creates a great flow Unfortunately, Surfer's Hymn is probably the most sonically dynamic track on the album with most of the other songs sitting on one sound or feel for the entire duration of the song. While I totally understand what he's doing here, many of the songs just doesn't appeal to me in the way that makes me want to return to them unlike more of the tracks from Person Pitch or the Animal Collective albums.
In fact, I really like some of the sounds Panda Bear is working with here. I love the sawtooth synth at the beginning of the title track "Tomboy" or even the quiet pianos in "Scheherazade". I also like that Panda Bear is experimenting with these different instruments and moods, expanding the washed-out guitars and samples that dominated Person Pitch. However, more than anything else, the lack of explosive production and dynamic songwriting here has made me increasingly aware of what makes the collaboration of Animal Collective so great. While this album lacks focused aggression and unpredictable sonic experiments to me, Avey Tare's solo release last year lacked the undeniable hooks and melodies that Panda Bear is known for. So while I appreciate hearing the differing perspectives between Panda Bear and Avey Tare, these solo albums mostly appreciate the collaboration even more and get me more excited for the next Animal Collective album.
Panda Bear - Surfer's Hymn