Panda Bear
Tomboy


1.5
very poor

Review

by Lucid CONTRIBUTOR (17 Reviews)
May 4th, 2013 | 93 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Alternate rating: 4.5. Bear with me please.

There's nothing I like to see more as a music enthusiast than when an album is loved and hated for the exact same reasons. That I can react to an album's ideas with outpouring love while somewhere else a listener reels back in revulsion – but still shares the same observations, understanding of the music – is amazing to me. It speaks to how idiosyncratic the listening process is, that our unique personalities, experiences, habits are mirrored in our reaction to art. So music discussion is most effective as suggested thinking, dialogue that aids us in unraveling our reaction to the sounds that confound us. The ones that do so mercilessly, the albums that leave us in personal crises, bouncing between extremes in frustration, can be the most worthwhile. I've finally reached peace with Tomboy, conviction in my viewpoint on this record, yet this is turbulent contentment, love and hate muddled into something terrifyingly mutual. The ambiguity in interpretation - the heart of this record, really – is the origin of the risk that drove such thought patterns. But it's been a learned perspective, one steadily cultivated. Let me get back to the record in a short while; a detour into my listening history is in order.

2010 saw me in agreement with many favorites - The Monitor, The Age of Adz, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – but I was in hostile opposition to a certain "smart" indie rock album: Public Strain. Smugly satisfied with its detuned guitars, dispassionate vocals and haughty deconstruction of the "indie rock sound," all aspects of it disgusted me. I hated it intensely, a proverbial 1/5, yet I hesitated to present my opinion as such: that would've meant that I didn't understand the record, right? Years later, I'm feverishly drawn to the same attitude I once rejected on Public Strain. I had to open up to its nihilism, have it consume me, hate how it made me feel, find thrill in that sadomasochism, scorn myself for engaging with an album so ridiculously, and eventually accept such emotional dependency. That process altered how I receive music, most notably in how I experienced the follow-up to The Monitor. Local Business was mostly panned by the fanbase and understandably so: the songwriting was tepid, the guitars sluggish, Stickles' wail more cringeworthy than ever. The album obsessed over worthlessness and feeling like shit to the extent that it often sounded like shit, and that was exciting. Concepts of human failure were executed unremarkably - by which I mean appropriately – amounting to one of my favorite releases of the year. I became drawn to total, consuming expressions in music; that nihilism and worthlessness in theme can be mirrored in songwriting as well became a source of appeal.

I guess I should start talking about Tomboy. Tomboy is a tedious, monotonous album. Every track drones on, at times offensively, submitting to stagnation and wallowing in it. In 2010, Noah Lennox followed up his vibrant summer record with murky indulgence, technicolor euphoria discarded for monochrome mud. The promise that initiates Tomboy, "know you can count on me," is an unfunny joke, fan expectations disregarded in favor of conceited artistry. Tomboy is like a burrito tossed at your windshield, except the burrito lands with a dull thud and hideously slides down your front window.

These are all reasons to dislike Tomboy, reasons that ring true for me, but I can't deny that I find this material affecting, even heartbreaking in its monotony, not in spite of it. The wheezy guitar lines, mundane synth textures, plodding rhythms, unemotive wails and flat lyrics come together to form an expression of life that is burdened by defeat, a soul resigned to apathy in the face of challenge. See how the title track circulates in light gravity but is propelled through by heavy feeling: "take my life so hard, take my life so hard, take my life so hard," Noah repeats, elongating his phrases to drive home the burden of self-reflection. The music is in constant motion and repetition, yet the movement is external, the world moving past a self that has become immobile. The mood can't be defined solely in the negative, however; it is too forcefully ambiguous for that. There is warmth to the sound, comfort in the lethargic pace - sometimes even hope. "Last Night at the Jetty" shoots to the sky in its chorus, but the verses question whether the happiness was even real: "Didn't I have a good time?" That Noah follows with conviction, "I know I had a good time now" is reassuring, but it's upsetting that on Tomboy memory can negate genuine joy, ecstasy can be overruled by depression, apathy can completely suppress enjoyment of the daily routine.

No track exemplifies how consuming the stagnation on this record is than "Friendship Bracelet". Beneath stormy waters, Noah's words bubble and disperse, ugly hollowness reverberating the pain of self-isolation: "I always thought that I'd grow further from, further and further and further and even further from the very people close to me." Words spiral in internal terror, the fear of loneliness radiating with each utterance of hurtful distance. The song goes absolutely nowhere, phrases dispersing aimlessly, ideas unresolved to conclusion. It's a tedious track brought down by failure in song construction, but that somehow makes it resonate further, the hurt more concrete by the all-encompassing faults. The album closes with "Benefica," Tomboy's shot at catharsis that somehow is its most ambiguous track. It feels transcendent because of how irreducible the emanated feeling is to words, sublime relief that is ecstatic, defeated, imagined, lived through, and anything else. It is defined more by the listener and how they've experienced Tomboy than its own attributes, and that makes it magical.

We often speak about music in absolutes as either "good" or "bad," but that limits our reaction to art that is messily, wonderfully in between. My reaction to Tomboy is one of love and hate, adoration and frustration, amounting to something valuable and irreplaceable. There is so much to receive from music when absolutes are dropped; beauty can be found in weakness, even when that concerns an artist's product and not just its themes. Do I entertain abusive relationships with my music? Maybe, but I can't deny the fulfillment that that brings. Should you expose yourself to such intensity, such conflict when approaching the music you experience? I'll leave that for you to decide.



Recent reviews by this author
Arcade Fire ReflektorCrash of Rhinos Knots
Fiona Apple The Idler Wheel...Deafheaven Sunbather
Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle Perils from the SeaTera Melos X'ed Out
user ratings (333)
Chart.
3.5
great
other reviews of this album
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?...

Adam Downer STAFF (4)
I believe it was the philosopher Tare who told us: "Feeling is good."...

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

related reviews

Young Prayer

Person Pitch

Comments:Add a Comment 
Jash
May 3rd 2013


4244 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Very well written as per usual Ali

Lucid
Contributing Reviewer
May 3rd 2013


7026 Comments


this review is dedicated to the return of byvolume

Digging: Perfume Genius - Too Bright

Lakes.
May 3rd 2013


27822 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i don't get it

Digging: Arthur Russell - World of Echo

Omaha
Staff Reviewer
May 3rd 2013


10207 Comments


There is so much to receive from music when absolutes are dropped; beauty can be found in weakness, even when that concerns an artist's product and not just its themes.


So very true. Very well-written, Ali, although I expected nothing else from you.

Digging: The Contortionist - Language

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
May 3rd 2013


50407 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Panda Bear is boring agreed

Digging: Viper the Rapper - You'll Cowards Don't Even Smoke Crack

Funeralopolis
May 3rd 2013


11377 Comments


this review is superb great work lucidity

Digging: Black Milk - No Poison No Paradise

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
May 3rd 2013


23828 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I love you

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
May 3rd 2013


23828 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

this is probably the best thing you've ever written, and it absolutely screams By Volume. Honestly
man just do it, one piece like this every month or so and you're golden.

Rev
May 3rd 2013


9423 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

great stuff ali!



tomboy defense squad

mindleviticus
May 3rd 2013


8232 Comments


I'm confused...

Digging: Cultes Des Ghoules - Henbane

Lakes.
May 3rd 2013


27822 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

review reeks of pretension

Gyromania
May 3rd 2013


15717 Comments


hmmmmmmmmmm

WashboardSuds
May 3rd 2013


5016 Comments


I think its a great review, I've had the same love/hate feelings for certain albums before and this sorta sums up that same feeling. pos'd

Omaha
Staff Reviewer
May 3rd 2013


10207 Comments


I don't see how this review reeks of pretension. Sometimes there are albums we both love and hate for the same reason, and this review illustrates that weird dichotomy.

mindleviticus
May 3rd 2013


8232 Comments


I'm just confused as to whether or not he liked it

Gyromania
May 3rd 2013


15717 Comments


actually, i can see where lakes is coming from as far as overall presentation (it's a little wordy where it doesn't need to be), but what i love about ali's reviews is that he's addressing points that are actually worth talking about, instead of just 'i love this album it sounds like _____ and you should all get it'. it's thought-provoking and he presents his central thesis flawlessly. i too have had this relationship with albums. christ, most of my all-time favourites i felt ambivalent towards at first.

anyway, review is ridiculously good overall. keep it the fuck up, man

Lakes.
May 3rd 2013


27822 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i suppose

the centipede hz pitchfork review reference was a bit much

Lucid
Contributing Reviewer
May 3rd 2013


7026 Comments


I do like this album, it's just that I like it because of attributes that are usually viewed as negative (see all my discussion about monotony and stagnation). It "sucks" but I'm still affected and amazed by it. If the 1.5/4.5 rating is confusing then just take the review as ratingless, I would have posted it as such if that was an option on this site.

Omaha
Staff Reviewer
May 3rd 2013


10207 Comments


The only advice I'd give, Ali, is that the first couple paragraphs could be reined in a bit. It's fine as it is, but you could probably do without a few of the references you made. This review works best when you add the direction of the last half, which is all very well-done.

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
May 3rd 2013


23828 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"review reeks of pretension"

you are the worst. it's a piece about music, and loving music, and all of the weird intricacies that can cause you to simultaneously love and hate a piece of music. if this is too high-brow for you then go back to ultimateguitar.com. this is a great piece of writing and god damn lakes you suck for not getting that.



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2014 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Privacy Policy