Listening to “Tomboy” on the way to work this morning, I started thinking about how Radiohead and Panda Bear have both played the internet these past few weeks/months. I read a very good piece yesterday by Stephen Troussé, that’ll be in the next print edition of Uncut, about “The King Of Limbs” and what he calls “the re-enchantment of the album release.”
Not wanting to steal all Stephen’s thunder or ideas, but he does talk a lot about Radiohead Week and the communal anticipation/gratification that came with “The King Of Limbs”’ release plot, a kind of modern upgrade of old-fashioned, pre-internet, pre-leak frenzy.
Panda Bear, though, has taken the opposite route with “Tomboy”, stretching the frenzy out over the best part of a year, exploiting the internet to present a kind of work in perpetual progress: playing the songs live, so that putative versions fill up Youtube; releasing most of the tracks as singles; repeatedly pushing the album release date back; then remixing the lot with Sonic Boom. Rather than a rapid surprise, it’s an epic tease – and Noah Lennox’s dense, elusive music is as suited as any to be showcased in a state of constant flux.
For more assiduous followers, I guess the actual arrival of “Tomboy” as a finished piece of work might be something of an anticlimax. But it’s evidence of my quaint attachment to albums over tracks that, fannishness notwithstanding, I haven’t felt compelled to keep up with the singles and leaks over the past few months. Apologies in advance, then, that I’m not in a position to compare these final, Sonic Boom-assisted versions with the earlier takes.
In comparison to “Person Pitch”, though, the loops and samples have been much stripped back. This is still fanatically textured music, but the unsteadily shifting layers are closer to those of the Animal Collective rather than any of Lennox’s previous solo records: the glittering timelag accumulation of the lovely “Surfer’s Hymn”, for instance – Terry Riley re-upholsters “Pet Sounds”, glibly – would’ve sat pretty comfortably just after midway through “Merriweather Post Pavilion”.
Both Riley and The Beach Boys are reflex critical responses to Animal Collective and especially Panda Bear projects, of course. But more than ever, the latter seems glaringly pertinent: even if, on the waterlogged schaffel of “Slow Motion”, it occurs to me that Lennox is tonally closer to pinched Al Jardine than to Brian Wilson.
“Last Night At The Jetty”, “Benfica”, and “Friendship Bracelet”, again, feel like “Pet Sounds” songs dropped into a contemporary echo chamber. If some of AC/PB work has previously been easy to characterise as in some way infantilised, many of these songs capture a tentative, melancholy sweetness on the cusp of maturity; an age of pop defined so poignantly by Wilson.
Which reminds me: Lennox has never been involved in a poppier record. Beneath the trademark amniotic sloshing, there’s a melodic clarity and directness that’s more pronounced than ever, unmediated by Avey Tare’s more jarring aesthetic (must revisit his solo album, while I think about it). And for all their deference to adjusted ‘80s pop, it’s hard to think of one of Animal Collective’s chillwave/hypnagogic descendants – save Ariel Pink – who can be quite so accessible while at the same time synthesising such a pervasive air of dislocation, of otherness.
If there’s a caveat it may be that, in spite of all their innovations and pleasures, I suspect that there may soon come a time when Lennox and Animal Collective’s aerated schtick might start sounding a little played out to me. Not just yet, though.
Belying its public gestation, “Tomboy” feels like an impeccably constructed and complete album experience. But a clutch of songs still stand out as some of Lennox’s very best: “Scheherezade”, devotional ambient minimalism that feels like a technological upgrade of something from “Young Prayer”; and two relative bangers, “Afterburner” and the title track, which both harbour a sort of pulsating urgency, a saturated delirium, while somehow managing to keep the air of dazed solipsism that binds the album together. If you’ve been following the singles thus far, let me know how this tallies…