Review Summary: Young Prayer is not only a sign that Panda Bear does just fine without the rest of the Collective, it shows that he has even made some improvements on their tried-and-true formula.
Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs
was an album of joy and impulsive passion, each track bursting through with a fever of playfulness. In between all the fun, though, the album was most successful when they calmed down a bit and made sure that the listener was having fun as well as themselves. The album’s best songs (“Who Could Win a Rabbit” and “Leaf House”, for example) had some semblance of a melody. They still had their crazy impulses (the bizarre repeated cooing of “meow” at the end of “Leaf House” makes a good case), but they were songs you could easily sing along to and actively enjoy. “Visiting Friends”, a twelve-minute bore of seemingly random, if aimlessly pretty, guitar strums, didn’t work out quite as well. So, if you took Sung Tongs
’ impulsive nature and replaced its childishness with a more mature atmosphere, would you get the best of both worlds? A founding member of Animal Collective, Panda Bear’s album Young Prayer
certainly holds up a strong argument for that concept.
was written and recorded when the father of Noah Lennox, better known by his stage name Panda Bear, died. The album serves as a kind of token of his memory, full of melancholic eulogies, alongside some happier tracks. All of the tracks are untitled, foreshadowing the kind of bare-bones record this is. The album is much like Sung Tongs
in its atmosphere, full of seemingly aimless guitar strums and vocals run through effects. Unlike Sung Tongs
, however, it is calm and sometimes soothing. It shows a more restrained side of the band, or at least Panda Bear, which is a refreshing change from their usual bursts of immaturity. It’s also simple or even minimalist in its approach and execution, often featuring just Panda Bear and a guitar. Its wispy resonance evokes some kind of musical whispering into your ear; whispers which could either comfort you in times of grief or haunt you in your nightmares.
The album’s best track is, unsurprisingly, its most simple and least spontaneous, which is the third track. The track is only a minute long, yet it manages to sum up everything you love about Panda Bear and even Animal Collective: it starts out with an unmistakably simple and joyous guitar line, which is then joined in by a piano playing essentially the same line. It includes no variation, but has the unprecedented ability to make you happy while listening to it. To be truly happy while listening to music is something rare, but Panda Bear makes it happen, all within the span of a single minute.
Another highlight of the album is track five, which features somewhat incoherent chants and claps for three minutes. It sounds like typically unintelligible Animal Collective fare, but, against all odds, it turns out to be a catchy and infectious track, and it provides a nice contrast to the rest of the album. The achingly beautiful sixth track also stands out, showing off Panda Bear’s extremely talented but distinctively untrained singing against ethereal effects and those prevalent guitar strums. The final track, with its piano phasing techniques, also shows off Panda Bear’s voice, showing a different, deeper side to his range.
has a certain stoic air about it, as if Panda Bear is coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. He is embracing the new emotions the event has given him, and channeling it through his music. To listeners of Animal Collective, it should come as no surprise that sadness can result in great music as much as joyfulness, and Young Prayer
strongly attests to that fact.
To some, Panda Bear’s repetitive strums and singing may start to wear out, but to anyone willing to put a little time into it, Young Prayer
pays off immensely. This is an album that gets better with time. Its incoherent guitar plucks and vocal expressions slowly start to make sense, not only as a musical memorial for his father, but also as a sign that he can move on, and as a message of hope for the future.