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Person Pitch, Slightly Shifted
on April 23, 2011
Having considered myself a devotee of all things related to Animal Collective, I was thrilled to hear some advance tracks from Panda Bear's third solo album, "Person Pitch." The 12 minute "Bros" was (and is) simply stunning to me. Panda Bear's voice had long been the honeyed chaser to Avey Tare's more manic delivery in Animal Collective, but here that beautiful yearning coo was the main focus of the music, mixed with washes of hazy synths and drifting in a hypnotically repetitive epic that owed as much to minimalist techno as to Brian Wilson and hippie jam bands. Perhaps most impressively, the sound of "Bros" was a significant departure in sound from anything anyone from the Collective had done previously, including Panda's own solo work. Surely, this was a sign that the AC spirit was going strong, and promised many more releases showcasing their restless experimentalism and constant evolution of sound.
Alas, I was a bit disappointed with the proper release of Person Pitch. I belong to a minority of people who feel that PP would have been much more effective and impressive as an EP rather than as a full album. For me, "Take Pills," "Bros," "I'm Not," and "Good Girl/Carrots" sound fantastic on their own, and are brought down by the surrounding tracks. I realize that this is heresy to some, but I found myself overdosing on the syrupy sweetness of the album as a whole. I enjoyed certain tracks, but waited anxiously for the next AC-related release to offer some nice contrast to Panda's Wall of Pet Sounds experiment.
For the most part, AC's Strawberry Jam (released shortly after Person Pitch) did offer a new direction in sound (some a bit questionable to me, see review for details), although Panda's contributions were again sunny, Wilson-inspired numbers, somewhat reminiscent of PP. Then, 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion demonstrated an embrace by the entire band of Panda's feel-good sugar time approach to music. Of course, I thought it sounded pleasant enough, but it became clear that my fearless heroes of experimental tribal music were starting to show signs of creative satiety. As critical praise for the band continued to increase, my hope in the old AC philosophy began to diminish. And, looking back, it all had started with Panda's Person Pitch.
So now we have Panda's fourth solo outing, "Tomboy." Panda has stated that he didn't want this to be a retread of Person Pitch, and there are indeed some differences, like using treated guitars and drums rather than samples for his arrangements. But let's not kid ourselves: these are very minor variations on the now-canonical PP sound: ethereal, meditative repetition with Panda's voice treated to sound like a drugged up Heavenly Host at the beach. Strong moments are to be found, for sure, such as the melancholy "Slow Motion" and the spacious "Scheherazade." Like Person Pitch, though, this release would have been better presented as an EP of its most essential cuts. Listening to the whole album, its true moments of fragile beauty are bogged down not only by the less inspired tracks, but by the overload of droning ethereal sweetness that has come to be Panda's trademark.
Compare this with his second album, "Young Prayer," and notice how affecting and beautiful the stark arrangements and production can be. Also notice how different in sound that one is from "Person Pitch."
I realize that some people can't get enough of this canonical PP sound, but I just wish he'd try something else.
If you're like me, you'll take the best songs from this one and enjoy a Tomboy EP, while waiting for another artist to fill the creative void that AC has decided to leave (currently, I'm hoping that Gang Gang Dance's new album will deliver).