A question of modernity hangs over ‘Buoys’, the sixth album from Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear. About what it is in this era, which demographic it appeals to and which genre is the best example. Not that it’s a beats ’n’ rhymes frenzy. Far from it. If anything, it’s the simplest sounding record Noah has put his name to, all the neon gnarl of and snarl of 2015’s ‘Meets The Grim Reaper’ turned down.
What remains is that reverb heavy timbre of his voice, always seemingly overlapping itself, while strummed and looped acoustic guitars, the sounds of things deflating and a raft (pardon the pun) of nautical or at least nautical sounding effects bubble and fizz alongside. Co-produced with Rusty Santos in Noah’s home city of Lisbon, the pair have stated that they set out to give ‘Buoys’ the feel of modern hip hop, using its tricks of production to give a modern edge. While it’s certainly a possibility that would happen, the mood of the album is altogether less flash than that suggests, a 31-minute patchwork of songs underpinned by acoustic guitar and stop-start percussion.
Noah frequently sings in three styles simultaneously, his ‘normal’ voice backed by higher pitched, and much lower pitched versions, interjecting at disarming points. Songs are cubbyholes waiting for you to open their doors and peek in. As a stripped-back affair, ‘Buoys’ offers a chance to hear Panda Bear’s ear for circular melodies clearer than ever. ‘Master’ has one of his sweetest, especially when he chimes “Part of a thank you to you”, while the title track finds what sounds like a dinghy deflating rivalling its all-too brief bursts of multi-tracked choral joy.
Such a pared-back feel can make for some of the more disconcerting moments in Panda Bear’s entire discography. What sounds like a crying woman throughout ‘Inner Monologue’ is wholly unsettling, while the middle eight of ‘Token’ soars vertigo high.
By questioning the zeitgeist, Noah has created a new sub-category of modernism. Old, but new at the same time, the seemingly limited palette of ‘Buoys’ is single minded and direct. A stunning, if hushed, indirect hit.