Panda Bear’s new album is built from striking found sounds and samples: tribal drum beats, underwater sound effects, planes taking off, non-verbal vocal incantations, and various other oddities. It’s all very innovative and unusual, just the sort of one-of-a-kind pastiche you’d expect from a member of Brooklyn’s preeminent experimental pop group, Animal Collective. What makes Panda Bear’s second solo project, Person Pitch (Paw Tracks), such a revelation, though, are its lyrics. A choice hook: “Coolness is having courage to do what’s right/I try to remember always just to have a good time.”
When you think about what qualifies as honest or emotionally cathartic music these days, you hear about acts like Sufjan Stevens and the Arcade Fire. While certainly genuine, their honesty is only viable because it’s filtered through a post-ironic frame. Stevens employs thirty-word song titles and a high-school band’s worth of orchestral flourishes to make a simple, touching point; the Arcade Fire use a church organ and beat each other over the head with drumsticks to prove that they really, really mean it. Pop culture is so ingrained with sarcasm that it takes such massive productions to get anyone to pay attention. Panda Bear subverts this phenomenon by treating his voice — and by extension his message — just as playfully as he does his samples.
Opener “Comfy in Nautica” is a deceptively simple but undeniably triumphant beginning. What sounds like a train rolling by fades and breaks into a tribal loop of hand claps, foot stomps, and a one-note wordless incantation. As Panda Bear begins his aforementioned refrain, fighter jets take off across the mix and his hypnotic repetition of “good time” becomes subsumed by something akin to a spaceship. These incongruous sources — from the rails to a drum circle, to the clouds and outer space — attain the all-encompassing power of an epic journey, and yes, a good time to boot.
Thereafter, Panda Bear’s vocals are more fully absorbed into the mix. “Take Pills,” about the relief of coming off anti-depressants, is projected through a pool of soupy water, coming up for air with reassurances like “I feel stronger/We don’t need ‘em” and “Take it one day at a time.” “Bros” and “Good Girl/Carrots” both exceed twelve minutes, each comprised of a few wildly different movements bridged by sudden but seamless transitions. The latter carries a frantic house/dub beat through a jungle of incoherent bellowing into a piano-heavy declaration of autonomy, which then gives way to a third act made with a traditional reggae beat and xylophone, Panda Bear assuring us “It’s good to sometimes slow it down.” After a jarring first minute or two, the amorphous atmosphere becomes the track’s sustaining force; wherever you are, you’re about to move on.
The last track, the short and tender “Ponytails,” is a spare piano lullaby. Bookending the album with plaintive sentiments similar to how it began, Panda Bear chants, “When my soul stops growing I get so hungry/And I wish it never would stop growing.” A heavy dose of reverb makes the refrain float off into the cosmos. It’s a quiet summation of the imagination and contentment that makes Person Pitch a joyous and pure experience.