Arts & Culture

Experimental pop artist Panda Bear releases sixth solo album ‘Buoys’

Animal Collective member Noah Lennox dives into a sound of solitude inspired by Atlanta trap music

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2019

Noah Lennox uses only a guitar, synthesizer, sampler and his voice to paint an aquatic soundscape, presenting a return to simplicity.

Panda Bear, otherwise known as Noah Lennox, released his new album, “Buoys,”  on Feb. 8. The album, critiqued by some to be oversimplified, explores the point at which modern sound becomes uncomfortable — where minimalism becomes unsettling.

When listening to “Buoys,” co-produced by Lennox and Rusty Santos, it is important to know the sonic associations of Lennox. Highly regarded as a god of Beach Boys-esque sampledelia and a member of experimental band Animal Collective, Lennox is most famously known for his 2007 release “Person Pitch,” which was named Album of the Year by Pitchfork. “Person Pitch” presents a dreamy, lush array of samples, loops and layered voices — a sound familiar to most Panda Bear listeners. In canonically heralded songs like “Take Pills” and “Tropic of Cancer,” Lennox relies on samples of old Scott Walker recordings, ballet suites and ’60s English instrumental bands.

But with “Buoys,” Lennox doesn’t rifle through the same rolodex of rich samples and hidden sounds. Instead, he strips down to just a beat, his guitar and his own voice to bring forth a sense of fragile solitude that is not present in his previous work. Lennox melds his once-cryptic sound on tracks like “Token” into a sort of new hi-fi, uncomfortably clear landscape, isolating both himself and his listeners. At the same time, Lennox’s use of water droplet sounds becomes almost ironic, referencing common associations of water and purity in this hyperclean album.

Lennox’s new album is wrought with artificiality, which is not necessarily a weakness. Hyper-anything, especially in music, is often regarded with disdain, but “Buoys” explores whether the hyper can be simple and effective. Citing artists like Rae Sremmurd, Lennox finds inspiration in Atlanta trap’s modern production. To Australian publication Broadsheet, Lennox stated, “Trap, to me is an extreme version of dub production; and dub is kind of perfect-sounding music.”

Lennox continued, “I wanted to make something that was reflective of a more modern, contemporary production style.” This intention comes across through his deliberate use of auto-tune and palpable sonic space. In the opening track “Dolphin,” Lennox’s vulnerable vibrating voice swells to peaks and valleys while minimal instrumentals echo in the background. The song is steady, almost like a hymn, and this is where Lennox’s artistic prowess is exhibited. Each tonal shift and beat is carefully calculated and almost algorithmic; in this album, sound seems to predict voice, and voice seems to predict sound.

When listening to songs like “Cranked,” it’s understandable how some listeners could feel alienated by the album’s production. It is a song at its simplest — a pure repetition of voices and guitar strums. When compared to opulent Panda Bear songs of the past, like “Boys Latin,” the contrast is almost alarming. The Lennox of “Buoys” instead resembles a more chill, Brian Wilson-like T-Pain, as both artists use auto-tune to achieve a sense of conscious control. Lennox’s committed, ultra-modern foray into a reverb- and auto-tune-heavy sound seems to imply that this deliberate minimalism is admirable.

However, the hypnotic soundscape of “Buoys” should not be acclaimed because it is music at its purest but rather because it is intention at its clearest. It is so threadbare that it threatens our notions and expectations of musical complexity. It’s unfair to compare this record to “Person Pitch,”which possesses a sound that Lennox could likely recreate at any point in his career. Panda Bear’s new album represents an oxymoronic yet exciting return to fundamentals through his digital, cherubic voice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*