“Sequential Circuits” is really the best way Noah Lennox could bring us into the world of his newest musical hallucination called Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. With its percolating synths, fluid gurgles, and Lennox’ own angelic harmonies floating above the song like paisley-colored clouds the song is a perfect mix of both Panda Bear’s previous musical endeavors and his work with Animal Collective. It doesn’t seem to take sides in regards to the more loopy, drugged exuberance of Person Pitch or the more restrained and desolate soundscapes of that albums follow-up, 2011s Tomboy. Then “Mr. Noah” comes rolling in and all bets are off. It’s weird, trippy, and a kaleidoscope of vocals and massive, bouncy rhythms. It’s basically saying Panda Bear isn’t going to give us a repeat of anything. Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is easily Panda Bear’s best and densest album yet.
I don’t know too many casual fans of Panda Bear’s music. You are either all in or you just don’t bother with Noah Lennox’ records. I think to some ears a Panda Bear album is just a lot of weird noise with big beats and pretty vocals. But I think that casual listener is underestimating Noah Lennox. A song like “Crosswords” sounds on the surface to be a nice beat, synths, and Mr. Lennox’ Brian Wilson-like vocal harmonies. But you dig in a little deeper and you start to hear the layers of sonic treasure. That’s the true beauty of Panda Bear’s music: the layers. The music is more like psychedelic mantras than songs. “Come To Your Senses” is also like that. The music envelopes you. It consumes you. Then “Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker” has the feel of some dark children’s nursery rhyme. Vocals bounce from left to right, ping ponging in your head. It has a trance-like effect, much like so many of Lennox’ songs. No one is making music like this, except for Noah Lennox.
All of Panda Bear’s albums are other worlds that you are invited to inhabit for the duration of their play time. Noah Lennox creates these worlds in such a way to where you can decide what these worlds inhabit. Good juju or bad juju. There’s both the feeling child-like exuberance and something darker lurking; sometimes in the same song. Person Pitch was like the stoner’s Odyssey and Oracle. It felt like this drugged excursion across some strange and beautiful land. It was an album that felt all-encompassing and welcoming. Tomboy on the other hand felt lonely and mired in self-doubt and desolation. Those aren’t knocks. That was just the vibe. Those songs for the most part felt like one guy sitting in an empty room creating these vast landscapes. Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper takes both of those feelings and turns them into a celebration. A celebration of coming to terms with mortality. “Boys Latin” is exuberance in that acknowledgement, as is the beautiful “Tropic of Cancer”. With its harp loop and Noah Lennox’ mournful vocal it’s sad like an old doo-wop song from the 50s. It feels like a song that was recorded on the moon, looking at the Earth in the distance. At one point it even brings a refrain from “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” to mind. Just for a moment.
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is the kind of album you commit to. It’s not just some cool music you throw on as background noise. It’s too good for that. It’s too deep for that. It feels like if played at the right time in the right circumstances it could transport you to some other dimension. Probably that dimension Noah Lennox came from before landing in ours. I imagine it’s a beautiful and frightening place. And I bet Brian Wilson vacations there. Either way, buy the album and take the ride.
9.5 out of 10