As cohesive, original, and carefully designed an album as 2011 has produced, Panda Bear's Tomboy is nonetheless a highly unsatisify listen, a work where confessional lyrics and inventive, expiremental approaches to vocal melody, percussion, and instrumentation all ultimately come to serve at cross purposes, resulting in a druggy, busy, "hard to connect with" album of minimal staying power.
But then, the forging of druggy, busy, "hard to connect with" music of minimal staying power is nothing new for Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox) or his compatriots in Animal Collective. I just felt that in recent years, following Panda Bear's winning '07 solo release Person Pitch and Animal Collective's fantastic '09 release Merriweather Post Pavillion, Panda and the band were finally on a evolutionary trajectory towards greater accessibility, particularly with the dropping of their early career penchant for intentionally confusing mood.
But alas, no. Tomboy is a return to the cluttered, obfuscating tactics of Feels and Strawberry Jam.
The approach is made clear from the get go in opener You Can Count On Me. Over a roiling, repetive sea of warping, sequencer-morphed keys and guitars, Panda's Brain Wilson vocals are patiently stretched end-to-end, like a ship captain calmly calling out to steady his crew amid a terrible storm.
And for eleven tracks, it's a pattern that with minor variations holds.
Taken individually, the music, Panda's dark lyrics full (as the cover image implies) of thoughts of self-doubt, and, most significantly, the vocal melodies, are often impressive...but the sounds never consistently congeal, and the lyrics are rendered unintelligible throughout by the stretched-out delivery and several delay effects.
My guess is various chemical "enhancers" may vastly improve one's ability to appreciate Tomboy, but I think most drug-free straights like me will find the material sonically appealing at times but otherwise inpenetrable.
Aside for Last Night At The Jetty, the album's most conventional and most successful mid-tempo track, the album works best in it's moments of extreme quiet (Sheherazade) or tempo (Afterburner), where the layers of clutter that bog down the rest of the LP are stripped away, resulting in simpler, more easily appreciated dynamics.
So, a disappointed mild recommend for Tomboy.
It's too unique and intentional an album to dismiss outright, but in the end, it left me feeling absolutely nothing.
Status: Mild Recommend.
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Tomboy, Last Night At The Jetty, Sheherazade, Afterburner.
Here's the official video for Alsatian Darn, which gives a good sense of the album's repetitve, druggy nature.
1. You Can Count On Me - 6
2. Tomboy - 7
3. Slow Motion - 6
4. Surfer's Hymn - 7
5. Last Night At The Jetty - 8
6. Drone - 7
7. Alsatian Darn - 6
8. Sheherazade - 8
9. Friendship Bracelet - 4
10. Afterburner - 8
11. Benfica - 5
Intangibles - Very Low
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