In recent years, Panda Bear has acquired a certain critical following that has seen his status as a solo artist grow exponentially with each release. Taking breaks from his regular stint in Animal Collective, he has put out a series of records that have garnered considerable praise. Of all his contemporaries, only Thom Yorke seems to enjoy similar deification. Both tend to be regarded as geniuses by association, their respective bands’ triumphs colouring the perception of their sometimes patchy solo albums.
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is Panda Bear’s fifth solo release, and it isn’t necessarily a bad record. However, it isn’t a remarkable record either. Over the course of the last few albums he’s refined a set of production and composition techniques that have relied heavily on table-top samplers and electronic processing. Problem is, it does tend to render every song in dense, repetitive textures and a relentless driving force that possesses all the subtlety of a threshing machine. A track like Come to Your Senses lays its wares out early on: a drum loop and splurged bass-line that faintly recalls a muted nineties rave hold down a steady enough grove, but then nothing really happens. It is not even that the loop itself is a bad one, but the track has seven and a half minutes of very little else. That may be great for dancing to a rave track, but Panda Bear seems unable to teeter in that direction with any real conviction. Where Animal Collective manage to surprise, often making use of sharp shifts in song structure or tone, Panda Bear seems content just leave the ideas suspended, self-contained without any challenge or worthy resolution.
Where Animal Collective manage to surprise, often making use of sharp shifts in song structure or tone, Panda Bear seems content just leave the ideas suspended, self-contained without any challenge or worthy resolution.
Panda Bear’s voice is at the forefront of most of the album. It is often described as angelic, or compared to The Beach Boys in timbre and tone. It is distinctive and can be a valuable factor in whether a song manages to distinguish itself. On Boy’s Latin it soars to a falsetto, presenting a pleasant interplay with the looped harp. The punchier Mr Noah demonstrates Panda Bear’s ability for vocal arrangement. The tugging repeat, ‘hey, hey, hey’ is a simple trick, but it gives the voice a place amongst the chaotic thump of the drums and scuffle of snot-rock guitar chords. Elsewhere, his lack of new ideas becomes apparent; an astute listener will find themselves wondering if they’ve already heard Lonely Wanderer on an earlier solo or Animal Collective record. That is not to say that it is a bad song, just a very familiar one.
Mostly Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper feels too self-aware and insular, too full of affectation to have produced any meaningful addition to a template already long established by Panda Bear. It is a record glossed in new naïve shtick, carefree privilege groomed into hedonism and ironic emotional detachment. One to take downers with, and sway to, in a disconnected fashion.
Words: Andrew Spragg