The music Noah Lennox makes as Panda Bear exists in a trippy universe unto itself, one that’s parallel to his work as part of pioneering alternative band Animal Collective but without its fraternal, organic mysticism. Using samplers and extensively processed instrumentation, the 36-year-old cobbles together arrangements that range from sunny and kaleidoscopic (like the songs on 2007’s acclaimed Person Pitch) to melancholic and reverential (2011’s Tomboy) and glues them together with singing that’s simple and sticky.
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, Lennox’s fifth studio LP, is his most direct and accessible statement yet: There are no austere synth drones, no waterlogged pseudo-homages to Super Mario 64. The vocal melodies are rich and impressively varied, from the descending riffs of “Mr. Noah” to the frenzied ping-pongs of “Boys Latin.” The production is flecked with influences from hip-hop and contemporary electronic music, and though the lyrics are often indecipherable — the sparkling “Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker” plays with the ambiguity — it’s never tough to parse the emotions he’s trying to evoke. “Tropic of Cancer” and “Lonely Wanderer,” both meditative reveries that swirl around the sensation of loss, rank among the most affecting of his career.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of Billboard.