Panda Bear

Person Pitch

(Paw Tracks; 2007)

By Peter Hepburn | 26 January 2008

The walk from Georgetown University to Adams Morgan, the DC neighborhood where I live, takes about 45 minutes. The route you choose doesn't seem to effect total travel time; in the cold I tend to walk faster, or occasionally just wuss out and take the bus, but most of the time I make it on foot. I like the walk: it gives me the chance to spend a while by myself, think a bit, and listen to music on my increasingly unreliable second generation iPod (it's a miracle the thing is even working at this point). Yesterday was the first real day of spring here in Washington and as I left campus just after sunset I cued my iPod up to Person Pitch, hoped the battery would last, and started walking.

I've been listening to Person Pitch, the third solo release from Animal Collective member Panda Bear (a.k.a. Noah Lennox) off and on for the last three months. His previous album, Young Prayer, was a beautiful document of grief and mourning. Released just a few months after Animal Collective's gorgeous, playful Sung Tongs, Young Prayer seemed the perfect response, capturing the melancholy and pain that its creator was feeling without being either banal or obvious. It's a record that I underrated, and one that I have come back to many times in the last three years.

As I came around on Young Prayer I became more excited about the new album; I was not, however, prepared for it. If Young Prayer was Lennox's record about grief, Person Pitch is his attempt to capture joy. All seven songs here are permeated by a sense of happiness: the elation of new love, fatherhood, and home. He's clearly enjoying his new life in Lisbon, and with Person Pitch he has captured the tone, texture, and feel of that happiness. He even manages a good visual approximation with the goofy album art, which bizarrely surrounds a page-long thank you to his favorite (or maybe just most inspirational to this project) bands and artists -- including the likes of Pete Rock, the Beach Boys, Michael Jackson, Kraftwerk, Love, Spacemen 3, and...the guy who wrote "Sussudio."

The rich new sound that Lennox has carved out is put on display with the opening bars of "Comfy in Nautica." The song clatters in on a constant series of sound effects, handclaps, and wordless chants. Lennox's lyrics are distinctly straightforward and even relatively decipherable compared to his past work but they still remain secondary to the sound. The song itself goes almost nowhere, but that's hardly the point: this is a record about tone and the aural possibilities of pop music. There are huge swells of electronics, tribal drums, chanted choruses, looped sound, and driving guitars. Listen to "Bros," a twelve-minute song that is all acoustic guitars, simple drum patterns, and the occasional weird sample. In theory this shouldn't work, but Lennox manages to subtly alter elements throughout the track, looping in a series of blissful pop hooks throughout and transitioning to a positively uplifting guitar crescendo toward the end. Brian Wilson is going to be coming up a lot in reviews for this record, and it'll be for good reason: like the best of the Beach Boys' work, Lennox is aiming at broaden the horizons here, bringing in the extraneous and weird in a conscious effort to make a pop record that is experimental and forward-thinking yet unreservedly listenable. He succeeds wildly.

The best example of Lennox's new approach to sound is "Take Pills," a song decrying the overuse of antidepressants that, about two and a half minutes in, switches from a slow dirge to an upbeat pop song. It's about as good as an anti-drug psychedelic pop song can hope to be (not a lot of competition in this category, really). I've written at some length about the album's other behemoth track, "Good Girl/Carrots" here, and that one manages to patch together disparate elements just as well. Even on the beautiful "Ponytail," Lennox avoids a basic acoustic guitar ditty by employing reverb and a quiet drum beat that pushes it over the top, making it the perfect closer for the record.

Person Pitch is just over 45 minutes long, making it perfect for my commute to and from school. I was about three blocks from home last night when "Ponytail" finished. I couldn't decide what to put on next, so instead I just took the ear buds out and walked the last few minutes in silence. It was a beautiful night out; warm but not yet humid. People were congregating outside, eager to take advantage of the weather, which was coming less than a week after our most recent snowstorm. Just listening to the sounds of the evening and the beginnings of springtime seemed like the only real way to follow up a record as odd, joyous, and wonderful as Person Pitch.