Panda Bear might be one faction of the notorious psychedelic gadabouts Animal Collective, but over the years he’s equally established himself as a solo artist. Over four albums Noah Lennox has bounded from bashed-up guitars to thick-hanging clouds of drone with the ease of a merry little toadstool-hopping Yoshi. His fifth solo effort ‘Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper’ guzzles down 90s hip-hop inspired drum programming, vocal auto-tune and cyclical loops. The result is more disconcerting than anything Lennox has done before, like a crunch corner yogurt with a split lid, or a tantalising ice-cold can of Rubicon with a busted ring-pull.
All the while it feels like there’s a shady, fairly unthreatening ghost holding a scythe in the background and peering over the whole album’s shoulder like an tenacious commuter trying to share your copy of the Metro. The beast of this record might be Death, but he’s the kind of ghostly caricature who chuckles heartily at the unsettling lyrics of ‘Boys Latin’s -“become an oaf again/ trip a lot, trip a lot” - and busts out an impromptu two-step to match the slouching grooves of ‘Come To Your Senses’.
Dense, slippery, wily, and flung together effortlessly.
True to title, Lennox is pursuing darker themes, but ‘Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper’ has a playful habit of being unwieldy and surprising. In the moments leading up to ‘Lonely Wanderer’ suffocating static seems to block up every pore, but then inky piano composition bursts across the blotting paper. The pealing trumpets of ‘Tropic of Cancer’ rise up out of similar static mulch. “When they said he’s ill / Laughed it off as if it’s no big deal / What a joke to joke no joke,” sings Lennox, bursting with suppressed sadness, and roughly chasing after traditional hymnal patterns in cracking vocals. Suddenly, Lennox has made something oddly beautiful out of nothing.
Life is not tangible or clear-cut, and neither is death. ‘Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper’ is dense, slippery, wily, and flung together effortlessly like a meticulously rehearsed sleight of hand. Boy, is it worth the legwork.