You don’t listen to a Panda Bear album—you swim through it. Noah Lennox, the lone man behind the Panda, taught us this on his acclaimed 2007 release, Person Pitch, and he travels deeper into the psychedelic flood on his follow-up, Tomboy, whose sounds range from a warm bath of loosely constructed electronics to a churning sea stirred by electric guitars, keyboard loops and stuttering synthesizers.
Lennox grew up in Baltimore, MD, along with the rest of his Animal Collective brethren, but he now lives in Portugal. He recorded Tomboy in his darkened basement studio in Lisbon, and his environment shows: Eerie electronic echoes circle Lennox’s boyish voice. This haunting quality flits in and out of the first five of the album’s 11 tracks, but once the song counter hits the midpoint, with the church organ-like suspension on “Drone,” the music embraces the dark—or at least dark-ish—side, and it isn’t always for the better.
The songs that open Tomboy don’t suggest such a ghostly second half. “You Can Count On Me” and “Tomboy” give the album an upbeat entrance, the former opting for a choir-style vocal harmony and a skulking beat, the latter spiked up by the steady, driving strum of an electric guitar. The charge of the first two songs sinks in the muddy, trance-inducing repetition of the aptly titled “Slow Motion,” but Lennox gradually regains his focus as the sounds of waves lap the shores on “Surfer’s Hymn.”
The track that follows, “Last Night At The Jetty,” immediately separates itself from the rest with note bending that gives it a playful bounce and a rhythmic line that isn’t hidden beneath any murky layers. “Jetty” is the only tune on Tomboy that can stand on its own. The other songs require the context of the rest of the album to make sense, which is simply an indirect way of saying that this is the song you’re going to put on your iPod.
The other contender is “Scheherezade.” Led by a repeated somber piano chord, “Scheherezade” finds Lennox singing quarter tones, common in some genres of Arabic music, in a detached whisper. It is probably no coincidence that Scheherezade is also the name of the Persian queen featured in the One Thousand And One Nights, or Arabian Nights, collection of ancient Arabic folk tales. This and “Jetty” offer sounds that have stricter, more directed boundaries than any of the other Tomboy tracks, most of which rely on a boring sing, swirl, repeat formula. Sure, Lennox makes a lot of pretty noise on this album, but sometimes you just want to pluck him from his own sound waves and have him try to navigate them from the inside of a more firmly constructed ship.