For better or worse, Panda Bear’s 2007 existential masterpiece “Person Pitch” became one of the most influential albums of the last decade.
The positive side is that like The Beach Boys’ 40 years prior, it served as a declaration that pop music didn’t have to be restrained to a formulaic — and oftentimes hollow, verse/chorus/verse structure. Hypnotic, droning tape loops and reverb-heavy vocals became as ubiquitous to the last decade as lo-fi production was to the preceding.
With this prevalence came of course the negative — countless imitators arrived in the wake of “Person Pitch,” often stripping the spiritual innocence and fragile emotional brilliance of its forebearer.
Now four years later, Panda Bear returns to a musical landscape eerily similar to 2007 with his newest LP “Tomboy.” With the failed imitators hanging onto their last breaths, Panda Bear picks up in the same place where he left off years earlier: creating another masterpiece of childlike innocence, melancholy and sun-drenched, hushed spirituality.
A return to form, “Last Night at the Jetty” is a delicately melodic hymn with Noah Lennox, drenched in reverb, reevaluating the reality he once held so dear: “Now we’ll have them all the time/Didn’t we have a good time?/I know we had a real time now.”
The childlike wonder and innocence found in “Last Night at the Jetty” is fundamental to the beauty of Panda Bear’s work. Repetitive psychedelic tape loops and harmonic choirs provide an airy, otherworldly atmosphere to a standout of the album.
Where “Tomboy” does depart from its predecessor is in its all out embracement of bass and echo-heavy dub production. Although “Person Pitch” clearly had its share of King Tubby influences throughout, “Tomboy” tracks like “Slow Motion” and “Alsatian Darn” take the influence to another level.
While previous Panda cuts utilized bass to create a warm and familiar undercurrent, “Tomboy” often abandons this warmth in favor of an intense, almost dancehall-worthy rumble.
The only downside to “Tomboy” is that it lacks the awe-inspiring discovery of its predecessors. We know that Panda Bear is able to consistently create beautifully spiritual music, but the methodology utilized to achieve this rarely changes.
For now, the constant beauty hasn’t delved into all-out repetition, as Panda is able to create a brand of bedroom-pop that transcends his contemporaries. But a change may have to happen before his music becomes a signifier of constant and cliched beauty.