Panda Bear’s new album, ‘Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper’, initially raises more questions than it does answers. Right from the off, there’s a fully-charged denseness that goes way beyond the sample frenzy of the Animal Collective man’s previous LPs. What follows is material that could be highly personal, or just another example of Noah Lennox coating emotions in gorgeous strokes.
With that, ‘… Grim Reaper’ is a difficult beast to uncage, but it’s a journey that pays off. In this week’s review, El Hunt sums it up: “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.”
As part of an extended interview in the February issue of DIY - out this month - we asked Panda Bear to answer the big questions surrounding his new album in Set The Record Straight.
If the title of the album represents the end of something, what’s coming to its conclusion?
It might be too early to tell, sonically speaking. I always hope that every new thing sounds different. It’s almost a mission for me. I think it’s safe to say that this feels like the closing of a trilogy of albums. I can notice a story-arc from ‘Person Pitch’ to ‘Tomboy’ to this one. Going back to using sampling, it feels like the closing of a circle, in a way. Really, the title is a nod to Jamaican music, particularly dub music. I like the way that it introduced an element in death that isn’t as heavy or dark. We don’t want to get close to death, but they packaged it in a lighthearted, comedic way. I feel like a lot of the songs work in that way; the subject matter can often be deep and serious and intense, but the songs themselves feel like and bouncy to me.
"The first five songs represent the hectic, bordering on psychosis, dissolving of the identity."
— Noah Lennox
Almost three songs in a row come straight in, without a second’s pause. Usually, your tracks tend to take their time.
At the beginning of the album, I wanted to feel like the stuff was more rapid-fire. We recorded about nineteen songs, and once we had this big group of stuff to choose from, there was this flexibility to crafting a story. In a grand sense, the narrative started to become clear for me with this specific sequence. It was kind of like the sound of an identity changing. The first five songs represent the hectic, bordering on psychosis, dissolving of the identity. It’s in its death throes. The beatless pieces are like a desert - your self-image isn’t want it used to be, but it’s not this new thing either, so you’re in this waiting room. The final part is the beginning of a new identity. I wanted those first five or songs to have a sense of urgency. There isn’t too much time taking - there isn’t a sense of patience.
Those beatless pieces belong to their own little world. ‘Tropic of Cancer’ - what’s that referring to?
The song’s about disease. I had a member of my family get cancer. So, that song starts from a personal place. It’s a good example of the process I went through with a lot of the words - they started from this hyper-personal place, which is kind of typical for me. But a big change on this one was trying to expand the gaze outwards. I tried to broaden the horizons, lyrically speaking. It’s something I’ve thought about over the past couple of years, and I’m sure having children influenced this shift in perspective. I feel like introspection is good. Introspection was the way I’d go about things, before. The idea was kind of like writing a diary, where someone reading it could pull in a meaning or information and use it in some way that might be positive for them. But then I felt like, although introspection is a good exercise, there’s a threshold it reaches where, past which, it forms into self-obsession and narcissism. It becomes a negative thing. So I felt like it might be a good time to look at things differently, to look at the big picture. A lot of the songs would start in the old way, and then I’d gradually chip away at it until I felt like I was talking about something bigger than myself. Even though the ‘Tropic of Cancer’ song starts personally, by the end of it I’m sort of just talking about disease in general, noticing how disease propagates itself to survive through time, just like every other being in the universe. I’m almost trying to be empathetic towards it. In the context, it’s like ‘It’s just trying to survive like all of us. You shouldn’t be so mad about it!’
Panda Bear's 'Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper' is out now on Domino.