Panda Bear
Tomboy


4.0
excellent

Review

by Adam Downer STAFF
April 10th, 2011 | 234 replies | 26,667 views


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: I believe it was the philosopher Tare who told us: "Feeling is good."

I know what you, omnipresent imagined counterpoint, might be thinking: “Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, Panda Bear.” But what if it was? So Tomboy wishes. Tomboy is a homogenous record, its eleven songs a steady mix of jagged, attacking guitars and that one damn sunshine and rainbows harmony. But it is a dynamic record as well, alive, moving, intimate. I admit, what sold me on this beast was that first crack of “Slow Motion,” that snap that slices through the track’s as-yet-developed, unstoppable groove. It’s a jarring moment, a part that confirms what the broadened remasters of “You Can Count on Me” and “Tomboy” suggest: that Panda Bear still has the creative ingenuity that made him Animal Collective’s most fascinating member for the past half decade. It’s difficult to not appreciate the delicious irony of Noah opening Tomboy with “Know you can count on me” when the time between the release of the lackluster first cut of “Tomboy” and the album’s own highly anticipated release date had been just long enough to let doubts of Tomboy’s quality seep in. But there was no need for worry. Tomboy is every bit as good as it promised to be, and more.

The “as good” bit comes from the songs. Prerelease singles “Slow Motion,” “Alsatian Darn” and “Last Night at the Jetty” rightfully generated quite a buzz for Tomboy. In their unmixed form, they were terrific, showing a Panda Bear not so dissimilar from the Panda Bear whose Brian Wilson influence drenched Merriweather Post Pavilion and Fall Be Kind. When they're mixed, however, they acquire new, exciting textures, filling the open space evoked by Lennox’s ever-present reverb. Producing credit goes to Sonic Boom, who earns it by deepening the low end of Panda Bear’s tracks and letting Lennox’s voice cover every inch of the record, creating Tomboy’s lush wall of sound. As he did on Person Pitch, Lennox trades in a beach-y, surf-y, what-have-you vibe. But unlike Person Pitch, Tomboy is immediate, as though Panda Bear has, for the first time in his solo career, allowed himself to come in close, singing not from a distance but vibrantly next to us.

And here, he’s a little exposed. The most peculiar insult lobbied at Tomboy thus far is that it’s soulless, a claim that denies the album’s anxious personality and the way it negotiates its “Daily Routine,” responsibility/aging angst. Unlike Merriweather Post Pavilion, which used its warm sound as a sort of blissful denial of its anxieties, Tomboy uses its palette to illustrate and address its fears. The title track, for example, finds Panda Bear stressing the lyric “Take my life” over a mechanical minor-key drone, grimly coloring Lennox’s complicated feelings towards fraternity, so deftly illustrated on “Bros” and “Brothersport.” Then there’s a track like “Scheherezade,” which finds Panda Bear stripped of his usual production trademarks and left to negotiate the space around one dissonant chord, singing in a more abstract mode that interrupts the generally rhythmic flow of the album. Granted, these are exceptions and not the rule- it wouldn’t be an Animal Collective record if it didn’t effuse some warmth- but sure enough, Tomboy is a bleaker record than standard AnCo fare.

But it’s warm as well, the album constantly struggling between a binary of stress and bliss, wishing to have Merriweather’s naivety but unable to escape its own realities. Following the shadier tints of “Tomboy” and “Slow Motion” are tracks like “Surfer’s Hymn,” “Last Night at the Jetty” and “Drone,” gorgeous gems that turn back to major modes and sound genuinely happy. And even these songs bear a heavier weight. It’s not a stretch to read “Jetty”’s repetitions of “I know, I know, I know, I know” as desperate, nor is it difficult to read into Panda Bear opening “Surfer’s Hymn” with “When there are hard times, I’ll step it up.” The most curious (and potentially most intriguing) illustration of this binary is “Afterburner,” the album’s longest and most percussive track. It’s in minor but it doesn’t feel like it, carrying a beat that is simultaneously danceable and exhausting in a good way, the opposing forces of Tomboy allowed to duke it out during the penultimate track of the record. Whether you read “Benfica” as ironic or peaceful will determine which side wins for you. For me, “Benfica” feels like an alleviation, allowing the tension Tomboy bears to burn out over a slow four minutes, all ambiguous and heavy-like.

To understate it, this album is complicated. It gives us as much heart as Lennox allows it to give, which is both just enough to feel something but not enough to know what that something is. There’s no real resolution to its tension, as the album both wants to be the summer album Panda Bear fans expect and something else, something darker. Me, I like that ambiguity. Tomboy is a record open to a vast number of interpretations and readings, and because of that, it won’t resonate with everyone. But for once, that’s refreshing. Tomboy is something distinctly “Panda Bear,” and, wonderfully, there’s no clear consensus on what that means.



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user ratings (331)
Chart.
3.5
great
other reviews of this album
Lucid CONTRIBUTOR (1.5)
Alternate rating: 4.5. Bear with me please....

Daniel Smith (4.5)
Nemo saltat sobrius....

J. Ponton EMERITUS (2)
The question really is, then, what feelings are we exactly trying to feel and why?...

Andrew Kaster (3)
"When there are hard times, I'll step it up."...


Comments:Add a Comment 
Gyromania
April 10th 2011



15483 Comments


I'll just reiterate: brilliantly articulated review, Adam - the amount of work you put into this shows, and I agree wholeheartedly with all of what you said.

Athom
Staff Reviewer
April 10th 2011



17204 Comments


hi

robin
Emeritus
April 10th 2011



4248 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

=)

psykonaut
April 10th 2011



3913 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yay

plane
Staff Reviewer
April 10th 2011



6093 Comments


I like that this review addresses most of my criticisms as pros and part of the ambiguity. I actually came around to this album the other day. 8)

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
April 10th 2011



15730 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

knew it would happen ='). might as well have put "dear lewis," as my summary but i cant keep using you
for that function cuz people will get jealous

Digging: Alvvays - Alvvays

wabbit
April 10th 2011



6988 Comments


How come you always get dibs on the best albums?


Also review is amazing.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
April 10th 2011



15730 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i fight, miles. i fight.

and thank you!

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
April 10th 2011



17920 Comments


cuz no one else cares about dibs

Ponton
Emeritus
April 10th 2011



5790 Comments


That last paragraph is very good at addressing the polarity of the sputnik response, as well as reviews like Mojo's. Great review, Adam.

A bit like Lew, some of the things I hate about this are your positives. At this point this album sounds like it wants to have a unifying mood, while trying to appease his various audiences and what they want, whether happy or something darker, and to me he's just not able to do that effectively, most of the time anyway.

Superbus
April 10th 2011



187 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

good review, still have yet to rate this as i have mixed feelings about it... few more listens should do the trick

gaslightanthem
April 10th 2011



5209 Comments


nice

klap
Staff Reviewer
April 10th 2011



10311 Comments


i am utterly and completely shocked at this rating.

Digging: Literature - Chorus

aok
April 10th 2011



4410 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

very very very well written

Digging: Aphex Twin - Syro

Enotron
April 10th 2011



7695 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

way to rip off robin's summary for mpp

Ponton
Emeritus
April 10th 2011



5790 Comments


Beach Boys because it's a Panda Bear review

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
April 10th 2011



15730 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

way to rip off robin's summary for mpp


omg didn't notice that. robin and i will have to sort this out with fisticuffs

kingsoby1
Emeritus
April 10th 2011



4950 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

i dont like AC that much besides feels, but this is great

Shrapnel94
April 10th 2011



2213 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Every time I hear Slow Motion I swear to God he's saying "everyone knows you're wasted"

Drsmith4
April 10th 2011



1715 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

lovely album, superb review. I definitely agree with you that it's semi-bleak...album reminds me of OK Computer, for some reason.



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