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Audio Reviews
Person Pitch
by Panda Bear
Paw Tracks (2007)
Person Pitch
The majority of our local readers should be at least vaguely familiar with the work of Noah Lennox, erstwhile Baltimorean and drummer for the Brooklyn-based freak-folk menagerie, Animal Collective. In addition to his work with the Collective, Jane, and Together, Noah Lennox also maintains his own zoölogical side-project, Panda Bear. Fed a steady diet of bamboo shoots and allotted plenty of time for good ol’-fashioned lumbering about, Lennox and his roly-poly musical moniker linger ponderously in the shiny, upbeat, and damnably feel-good end of the pop/rock spectrum. Hyperbolic though it may seem, listening to the delightful tunes of Panda Bear is as comforting as a fuzzy hug of ursine proportions, free of unpleasant things like musk and a painful mauling by an overprotective mother bear. Believe me, those “DO NOT FEED THE BEARS” signs are there for a reason, though the United States National Park Service might be more direct in their warnings… methinks that “DO NOT FUCK WITH YOGI” might be a tad bit more effective, and a fitting herald to the grizzly ass-whooping that comes from ignoring the aforementioned warning. Also, watch what you wear—pandas and their kin are notoriously critical fashionistas.

Ahem. Considering Lennox’s penchant for soul-pleasing pop and his association with the noise-infused freak-folk scene, it should come as no surprise that his most recent Panda Bear exploits—specifically, the cusp-of-spring release of Person Pitch—have earned comparisons to the work of every rock critic’s (second) favourite pop group, the Beach Boys. Upon listening to Person Pitch, there’s no arguing the similarities; if only this once, referencing the Beach Boys is more than just a reflex response to wading through thick layers of pop rock instrumentation, effects-laden sonic chicanery, and echoing vocals.

Initially, I was a bit disconcerted by Person Pitch’s underlying stylistic similarities to the Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, which set me to pondering. Given: Harvey Phillip Spector was far too tied up with preparations for his murder trial to be bothered with producing an independent album for a musically-inclined ailuropoda melanoleuca, but what of reclusive Beach Boy Brian Wilson? Had Lennox gone so far as to kidnap the idyllic surfer-visionary? Was Wilson kept locked away in the basement of Lennox’s Lisbon home, chained to a keyboard, a bass guitar, and a MacBook Pro? Had the wily Panda Bear coerced Wilson into crafting song after song from a back catalogue of sampled sounds, all while doped up on an intravenous cocktail of Red Bull, Ben & Jerry’s, liquefied cheeseburgers, peyote, Zoloft, and lysergic acid diethylamide?

In all likelihood, no. Still, it’s an oddly bemusing scenario, and a fittingly bizarre analogy for the creation of the melodious found-sound collage that is Person Pitch.

If you really, really want to dissect the album to find what makes it tick, I refer you to intro track “Comfy in Nautica.” Initially, the song relies on industrial ratcheting and an ominous choral drone, a combination not unlike the SuperCollider antics of Norwegian duo MoHa! grafted to the thunderous chanting of Shoji Yamashiro’s AKIRA song-cycle. Still, all of that is merely a lead-in for “Comfy”’s heavily-vamped vocals, which affect a watery doubling/delay effect that is then draped over an equally fluid backdrop of layered sounds—in this case, the reverberating percussion of foot-stomps, hand-claps, and finger-snaps. Intriguingly, “Comfy”’s melody is near-entirely vocal, with bizarre non-instrumental (or heavily augmented and irregularly played) noises whirling, whistling, vrooming, revving, racing, and whooshing in and out of the overarching soundscape, almost as though Lennox had recorded the entire thing in a barely-dampened sound booth in the middle of a Formula-1 raceway.

Really, you would be far better off thinking of Person Pitch in terms of onomatopoeia. “Take Pills,” for instance, leads off with a swishing clip-clack-clop that, like the whirrs and drones of “Comfy,” forms the song’s rhythmic base. To help move things along, Lennox tosses in the jingle-jangle of a tambourine and the du-whummm of a super-fuzzy bass riff that eventually transforms the song from a laid-back moper to a poppy crooner, complete with ukulele-ish squiggle, snick-snap stick percussion, and the humming whoosh from an oncoming subway train.

Don’t get me started on the twelve-minute odysseys of “Bro’s” and “Good Girl/Carrots,” let alone the short-and-sweet complexities of “I’m Not,” “Search for Delicious,” and “Ponytail.” Make of those what you will, because I’m not about to piece them apart for you. Frankly, I don't have nearly enough comic books through which to scour for commonly accepted onomatopoeic spellings.

At album’s end, I’m not certain what fascinates me more about Person Pitch—the sheer variety of sounds contained within the album, the way in which said sounds are arranged, or the lengths to which Noah Lennox had to have gone in order to assemble them in the first place. Whichever the way, it’s an impressive feat. Way to go, you crafty old bear.

Oh, and to our Baltimore/DC readers—if you’re up for it, Panda Bear will be working his magic at the Ottobar on the 21st of June.
Posted by: Tom Körp

Audio Reviews (March 30th, 2007)

Tags: audio, review, panda bear, person pitch, paw tracks