Don’t fear the reaper

U-News Staff

The past few years have been good to Noah Lennox. Animal Collective’s lead singer, who takes the moniker Panda Bear, appeared on Daft Punk’s Grammy award-winning “Random Access Memories” and became a staple performer for music festivals. Yet as Lennox approaches mainstream fame, and his 40s, can he still make an album true to his experimental roots?

The answer is yes. “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper,” released on Jan. 9, finds the sweet spot between white noise and bliss. Lennox’s psychedelic croons resonate over wonky and animated beats. Like someone changing the channels of an interdimensional TV, each track offers a different logic and vibe from the last, all buffered by radio static in between.

Nothing quite sounds like a Panda Bear album. His singing can range from perfect tenor Beach Boy moans to spacey Hare Krishna chants. While combining both might seem jarring, it’s a style of his own that he’s perfected over the years. Sacrificing the organic-sounding hymnals from previous albums for rough-edged electronic fuzz only pushed his binaural soundscape expertise further.

“Mr. Noah”

What could only be described as a dubbed-out, cosmic surf-rock anthem, the lead single hits its mark. Distorted synths and seal noises play under ’90s hip-hop drumkits while Lennox ecstatically climbs all over the vocal ladder. It sounds harsh at first, but its catchiness makes it become warm to the ears.

“Crosswords”

As “Mr. Noah” surges and gurgles into the next track, “Crosswords,” Lennox channels Brian Wilson over vocoded reggae rhythms. His classic call-and-response lyrical approach is complemented by ’50s pop music “oooohs,” creating a song that just feels right for whistling.

“Boys Latin”

I can only describe this song a as chamber choir stuck in a cave with Aphex Twin. Like a merry-go-round, Lennox’s voice joyously rises and falls in beat with a thump, snare, and IDM cymbal. He chants “Beasts don’t have a second to think/but we don’t appreciate our things,” echoing and sounding out every syllable until it’s almost unintelligible.

“Principe Real”

Panda Bear lays down the funk on this track. Sounding like a pedestrian clap-along disco, this track is left slightly off-beat and flourished with ambient blips and bleeps. Leading into the chorus, lower synth tones subtly blare over the drums, just long enough to suggest meditation. It’s an interesting effect that causes your head to complacently nod.

Other notable songs are his piano riddled “Lonely Wanderer” and “Tropic of Cancer,” a slow-dance tribute to his dead father. “Selfish Gene” stands out as an ’80s-synthed love tale that slowly builds in power toward an unreachable climax. This drum-less track brings Kraftwerk and leather jackets to mind.

“Panda Meets the Grim Reaper,” like many of Panda Bear’s works, takes a few listens to fully appreciate. With every listen comes more nuances to notice. In an interview with “Rolling Stone,” Lennox described his style as “when everything mixes in weird ways and you can’t tell what’s what. That’s when quasi-magical stuff starts to happen, when things start tricking my ear and my brain.” There’s plenty of that to find here.

His signature synesthetic sound remains uncontended on this album. Lennox might be settling down with a wife and two kids, but his creative youthfulness is still alive. A matured veteran of the Wham City freak-folk scene finally finds his niche between electronic exploration and nostalgic warmth.