Panda Bear - Buoys

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Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) strips things down significantly for his sixth studio album, at times reminiscent of the freak folk era of Animal Collective. His signature reverb soaked psych pop replaces his hallucinogenic electronics for a sound carried primarily by sedative acoustic strums.

Compared to the acid-drenched and audacious effort of 2007’s Person Pitch, Buoys is far more simplified and straightforward in its arrangements and song craft. A loose nautical theme looms over each of these tracks with gentle water sounds and an overall sense of seaside serenity. With a significantly more minimalist approach, Panda Bear leans into his pop sensibilities, incorporating auto-tuned vocals and other production techniques you’d expect on a charting hip-hop hit.

On the opener “Dolphin,” water drips pair with light hi-hat taps to form the percussion. The track is built around Panda Bear’s staccato guitar chords, as basic of a pattern as one is bound to hear on record. But with how he manipulates the instrument, drenching it in reverb and embracing its droning quality, Panda Bear succeeds at charming with very little.  Vocally, Lennox elongates his airy croons and lets them simply drift weightlessly. Unfortunately, as with most tracks on Buoys, “Dolphin” suffers from excessive repetition. While the instrumentals create movement, the song doesn’t actually arrive anywhere.

This formula maintains itself for the rest of the record with occasional flourishes. “Cranked” is even more whimsical than the opener, introducing a strange laser sound. Marching electronic drums are frequently introduced, most prominently on “I Know I Don’t Know.”

There is a romantic quality to the lyrics. Panda Bear offers up simple and endearing moments of solace hidden underneath the sun-tinted haze. On the title track, he affirms to his partner “Lit from a light within, made from a brittle thing, we got a special thing.” And on “Crescendo”, perhaps the brightest track present, he speaks to the strength of companionship: “Witness the crowd into the stew. Ripple with friends that ripple with you.”  This warmness is signature Panda Bear.

Sadly, in spite of the occasional melodic bright point, Buoys’ playfulness and quirks can’t save the record. Most of the time, the records idiosyncratic sounds and squelching studio trickery most often come off as cloy and trite. The emptiness of Buoys is unable to capture the immersive spiritual qualities of Panda Bear’s best solo output, and any eccentricities present fall short of replicating the euphoric zaniness of Animal Collective’s golden era. Buoy’s has its charming moments, but the overall product is weighed down by monotony and half-baked songwriting.

 

Grade: C+

Matt Marciniec