Review Summary: Nemo saltat sobrius.
My high-school Latin teacher (I’ll dub him Mr. Aphorism, for safety’s sake) was a treasure trove of verbose obscurities. Even now, three years since I last set foot in his chilly academic harbor, I remember his mannerisms, his hatred of scrying, that is, staring at a blank quiz in hopes of psychically foretelling the correct answers, and his rich vocabulary. But what made Mr. Aphorism such a natural with language was his ability to pull words and phrases out of whatever magician’s hat he wore, so to speak, and apply them, like jigsaw pieces, to the current lecture. Now, I’m no fancy emulator by any means – I’m that guy who fucks
jokes up, leaves out the important details – but there’s something he used to say about how certain works written in his favorite dead tongue would “titillate his risibles.” And I hate to force the transition from writing about Mr. Aphorism’s semi-creepy diction to writing about this Tomboy
album, but that’s precisely what Noah Lennox, known professionally as Panda Bear, is doing in the year 2011: titillating your risibles, or, in common English, splashing a little artificial summer into your life.
Remember the first time you hit the three-minute mark on “Dance Yrself Clean” from last year’s This Is Happening
, LCD Soundsystem’s swan song record? Or blasting Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
with the windows rolled down, singing along, beating the steering wheel? Or connecting with any
album released in between April and June, realizing it would define your sweaty, blissful afternoons by the poolside and your nostalgic summer nights? If so, guess what? You’ve experienced the sort of aural titillation Panda Bear achieves with Tomboy
, similar to the familiar catharsis manifested by “One More Time” at a late-night dance party, though less immediate. Tomboy
is not a summer album in the traditional social sense: girls in colorful plastic sunglasses aren’t going to burn “Slow Motion” onto their beloved mix CD’s, and its subtle contents aren’t going to attract the proverbial party bugs to the dance floor, but I’m just fine with that. Merriweather Post Pavilion
already exists, what with its “My Girls” and its “Summertime Clothes,” proof that Noah Lennox can “do summer” just as skillfully as Rebecca Black can recite days of the week. And for all the flak surrounding Lennox’s samey melodic style, he isn’t all that into formulae. Yesterday was Person Pitch
. Today it is…
, duh. Filled to the brim with Panda’s echo-laden harmonies, heavy tribal beats, and trippy background noises, not to mention his recent penchant for lyricism, this is undeniably the child of Animal Collective’s most gifted (or at least consistent) member. Person Pitch
were celebrations, though, albeit celebrations of mundanity. And while Tomboy
does continue to stray away from the collective’s early love of freak folk and its cryptic obsessions, it’s so much more of a reflective effort. Why else would Lennox immediately vault his vocals to the forefront on “You Can Count On Me?” True, he wants for you to enjoy the music…but he yearns, he aches
to be heard on a more emotional level, which very well might account for the song’s somewhat bare structure. He’d like “to put a bubble” around somebody – the classic ‘you’ – but understands “a secret child is just a silly trick who grows up to lose that force field switch.” And so, by pairing impassioned verses with an ear for melody, by reducing the swirl of samples present on previous releases, Panda Bear delivers an album with few wasted seconds, “Drone,” of course, being the primary killer here. It’s not that the song “wastes” time accomplishing its point (that it drones) per se; in fact, it’s a pleasant-enough song. It lacks, however, the innate wonder found in Person Pitch
equivalent “I’m Not.”
But lose not your faith, young hipster children! So what if Panda Bear’s Tomboy
isn’t the album of the year (a term which I believe, by the way, is skewing the way we approach, listen to, and re-listen to new music)? Look to the spring-loaded “Slow Motion,” resurrected from its bland B-side version on the “Tomboy
” single to become one of the record’s more durable cuts, and realize there’s magic in this record. Some songs, like the aforementioned “Drone,” and like “Scheherazade,” aren’t as memorable as, say, “Friendship Bracelet” or “Afterburner,” two back-to-back exercises in the psychedelic realm, the former embracing a chill sound not unlike Merriweather
’s “Taste,” the latter opting for something much, much, noisier. And you know what? Those final two minutes of Tomboy
’s penultimate track, when the wall-of-sound floodgates finally burst open, are apology enough for any misstep contained within this winner. Then, at the last minute, Panda Bear confirms it, that Tomboy
is nothing short of excellent: closer “Benfica” concludes the album in a similar manner to its exposition, with a vocal-heavy drifter. “Some might say that to win is not all that it’s about,” Lennox intones before correcting himself: “But there is not a thing more true or natural than wanting to win.” It’s not until he climbs that final octave, though, with that final, dreamy line, “There’s nothing more to life,” that Tomboy
attempts to transcend, in a single titillating moment, everything Lennox’s collective has put out to date. It comes within inches of eclipse, too. You’ll never feel quite sober again.