Apr 15, 2011 Web Exclusive
While “You Can Count On Me,” the first song on Panda Bear’s Tomboy, is about having children and wanting to keep them safe (“Want to put a bubble ‘round you/Like a force field switch”), it could just as easily be read as a response to the pressure of following up Person Pitch. “Where are you if I’m not up for it?” he sings, and “You Can Count On Me” becomes an excellent depiction of the swing between confidence and terror that an instant classic can inspire. Lennox took four years between solo releases, but it’s hard to be critical: His time is well accounted for with his work with Animal Collective (two albums and ODDSAC, a ‘visual record’ between Person Pitch and Tomboy). Tomboy tries to be everything at once, and it certainly doesn’t fail, but it doesn’t approach Person Pitch.
After opening the album with “You Can Count On Me,” Lennox slows things down and shifts expectations immediately. Tomboy features more live instrumentation and fewer samples than Person Pitch, and the result is more straightforward but less energizing. “Tomboy” features hard-strummed, distorted guitars that occasionally mirror Lennox’s vocal notes. They hit hard because of it. The song loses steam in its repetitiveness, a trend that threads its way through Tomboy, especially in its second half. Without Person Pitch’s Easter egg samples and surprising found noises sprinkled throughout, the reward to the listener isn’t as great.
Tomboy’s clear highpoint is “Surfer’s Hymn,” which also happens to be the clearest descendant of Person Pitch. The song gets off to a rocky start, with corny waves crashing in full sleep machine mode, but then a rapid series of notes invokes Lennox’s supple voice. A minute in, “Surfer’s Hymn” soars away, with Lennox’s vocals and computerized tones keeping it grounded. It’s the rare track on Tomboy that contains several shifts in structure and tone.
Whenever the next Panda Bear record appears, Tomboy may make itself known as a transitional point between Person Pitch and whatever’s next. On its own, Tomboy isn’t moving forward but it isn’t treading water, either. Lennox performs a tricky balancing act in that sense. If he ends up not being up for it, listeners will walk away, but for now, they’re here, waiting to see how he comes out on the other side. (www.myspace.com/pandabear)
Author rating: 6/10
Average reader rating: 9/10