Tag Archives: Panda Bear

The Year. 25-21.

25. Panda Bear – Tomboy [US]

It is difficult to explain in words why I like Panda Bear when I know I’m dismissive of similar music. It could be brand loyalty, though I’d like to think it’s not. The other times I’ve written about him specifically here, I came up with the ideas that a) “you can sleep to it” but it’s not boring and b) his melodies are “the melodies children sing to themselves in playgrounds, the purest, most beautiful music“. One of those is underselling and the other is, in all likelihood, overselling. Both still feel, to some extent, true. Tomboy is hypnagogic music, one long psychedelic lope at a varying pace with varying melodic or semi-obscured lyrical hooks to provide the changes in pattern amongst the repetition. It’s at its best when you lose focus and it feels for a second like you’re hearing a nursery rhyme for adults, as if that’s a normal thing. It doesn’t have the lofty moments Person Pitch had, but they were just highlights, not the whole reason it was good. That’s still the same, I just can’t really express what it is.

Panda Bear questions existence and thinks about ▲.

Panda Bear – Slow Motion

24. Fair Ohs – Everything Is Dancing [UK]

For some reason, the ‘tropical’ arm of lo-fi music seems easy to dismiss now. It’s not as if there’s anything less earnest about having syncopated drums and afrobeat guitars than there is about “updating” 60s garage rock or anything else. Fair Ohs, or at least in their most easily defined manifestation, are bloodline successors of Vampire Weekend, Abe Vigoda and maybe even Surfer Blood in terms of messing around with African styles in a conventional indie rock set-up. It’s been done, I know, it’s not a unique selling point any more. But what if the band is good? There is a distinct element of something nebulous like ‘heart’ about Fair Ohs that makes the negative connotations of still doing tropical pop go away, and besides, their sloganeering choruses are infectious enough to negate any quasi-critical discussion. Baldessari, the opener, effectively has two choruses and nothing else. It’s simple, pseudo-naïve and impossible not to find fun.

BBC Maida Vale session and their website that encourages you to blog about them.

Fair Ohs – Baldessari

23. Z-Ro – Meth [US]

You get the impression that, this far into his career, Z-Ro genuinely doesn’t care about the impression he gives off. There’s a disconcerting sense that he actually believes what he says, even when it’s well-trod territory for most rappers. He is very clear in his hatred of women, especially the mothers of his children, but he has no issue with stealing your girl, ostensibly just to flex alpha credentials. He is on his “fuck the world for no reason shit” on the song dedicated to proving that (No Reason) and everywhere else too. Everyone is getting slapped, and some people are getting shot. It’s actually unpleasant to listen to at times, but there’s something undeniable about how confident and unassailable he sounds when he rolls out the OG croon. The laid back Southern necksnap beats set you up and then Z-Ro sings on his tracks in exactly the opposite way that Drake (one of two people in the world given a dispensation to wear skinny jeans, coincidentally) does. There’s soul to it, real feeling. Even when he’s talking about being “an asshole – by nature”, that makes it ultimately relatable.

Z-Ro endorsing a barber shop and explaining that he doesn’t have bodyguards and a freestyle he dropped on Twitter.

Z-Ro – Never Had Love

22. Male Bonding – Endless Now [UK]

There are two approaches presenting themselves here. The first, well-worn and not particularly interesting any more, is the fact that Male Bonding made a lo-fi record and then followed it up with this one, which is less lo-fi. Like Girls. And Pains of Being Pure At Heart. And Smith Westerns. And a million other bands. Bands aren’t beholden to something as superficial as an amount of vocal reverb, even if that was, embarrassingly, what drew you in in the first place. The second approach is to talk about how Male Bonding, a London band already dangerously close to pastiche of American music, went even further in that direction. Slower and less reckless, this is J. Mascis territory definitely, but if you’re a fan of anything approaching this style of guitar pop, you’ve necessarily gotten over the term “derivative” and you acknowledge that these records have to live and die by their songs, their contributions to the great power pop compilation in the sky. Endless Now is a good record by those standards, and songs like Bones also fulfill the secondary purpose of backing up the idea that it’s time to welcome Blink 182 back into the guitar pop canon.

Review from AU and a cover of Aneurysm from an EMA split.

Male Bonding – Carrying

21. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life [CAN]

I suppose it’s important to acknowledge the fact that this is a rock opera. Fucked Up are, after all, vestigially a hardcore band, and lyrics are all-important in hardcore. It’s something to do with a love triangle and a lightbulb factory. But even though the 78 minute consistent concept has dazzled reviewers and dominated the narrative surrounding the record, that’s not really anything to do with what makes David Comes To Life good. It’s good because it’s the perfect modern power pop record, not separating melody and aggression but wedding them. Pink Eyes’ singing is, of course, melody-free, but that just adds to the impact. Rather than being a record of excess and laudable but ultimately inaccessible ambition, it’s better to think of it as a distillation of the immediacy of hardcore (Pink Eyes spitting out the words “running on nothing” in a way that makes you feel like there’s a lot of phlegm coming out and he’s going to need to sit down afterwards) and the prettiness of pop rock (the Poptopia-sounding high guitar riffs that drive almost every song). At an hour and twenty minutes, sure, it’s difficult to stay open to melodies presented with that much drive, but if you can avoid simply letting it hit you in the face, it’s really a triumph of fun, feelings and an unexpected level of quality control.

Running On Nothing live in their home town and a Pink Eyes interview from the AV Club.

Fucked Up – Queen Of Hearts


I can use my magical Rhythm sticks and you can play your Sun harp

Panda Bear is big enough to play Vicar Street now. That’s a bullet point in itself. When I was a youth, in the developmental stages of being a wanker about music, I used to hear people talk about Sigur Rós, a band I never really personally got into, and wonder how half the people who loved Sigur Rós were into Radiohead or things like that, and the other half possibly didn’t have another complete album in their possession. There’s something about music you can go to sleep to that unites the nascent snobs and the people who are destined to graduate from pop charts to latency period to retro compilation albums of pop charts.

So it is with Person Pitch. You can sleep to it. Some people like it more than any Animal Collective album (because they are lunatics) and it cracked the Pitchfork Top 10 albums of the 2000s alongside such marvels as the aforementioned Sigur Rós, Wilco and Arcade Fire. For the first reasonably accessible solo album of the guy who was once Just The Drummer in a band many people consider too pretentious to bother hearing, never mind listening to, it’s done pretty well.

So there’s a crowd, standing, looking at the Vicar Street stage. I’m in it. Last time I was there, I was marvelling at the pin-prick silences that I presumed Dublin crowds were incapable of, at Grizzly Bear. This time, perhaps owing to the narcotic hippie mumble of Kurt Vile acoustic, there were chats. But there were people. Lots of people. Some of whom presumably are not yet used to the process of steeling yourself against the hour of tape delay and re-imaginings AC can sometimes pull out.

I don’t know how they did with it. I heard some people say it was boring. It wasn’t boring, though. He only played one song off Person Pitch, but the songs he did play were, I think, better than Person Pitch. Or they will be, in the cold light of whenever it comes out. The songs were beat-driven, they were sanguine. They had a guitar in them that was even audible as a guitar rather than a swash-creation device sometimes. There was a song with some Benfica crowd chants, because why not.

It’s inevitable at a gig with music you haven’t heard before that it’s going to sound like it’s meandering a little, slightly formless, as a consequence of the human brain’s need for boundaries and all that shit. But this wasn’t spacey the way Person Pitch is. Person Pitch, before it sounds too much like I’m slating it, is an incredible album, but it does go on long walks quite often. LP4, on last week’s evidence, is not going to do that. An hour was not enough.


The Year. 10-6 (getting there)

10. Battles – Mirrored

If Battles are math rock, then they’re bringing more emotion to the subject than my (thankfully over) sixteen years of immersion in the subject led me to believe it was capable of. Plus, only some of their songs have ridiculous time signatures. So let’s dispense with that. Mirrored is probably the closest thing to progressive music I’ve ever actually enjoyed and it is all pinned around a rock solid core of instrumental virtuosity. Seeing it live at Lowlands opened my eyes properly to Battles, because I could see these four guys standing on the huge stage with instruments in hands, playing really complex and impassioned music at a rate of about 400 notes a second – and staying completely within the lines, so to speak. Tightest band I’ve ever seen. The album drips of that tightness, the live interplay of these four virtuosos. But it is catchy as all fuck too. From Race In to Leyendecker (Side A, in the words of our ancestors), there isn’t a song that doesn’t lodge itself somewhere in the brain. And it will sound original for about 50 years. I guarantee it.
An interview in which Battles describe their music better than anyone else, and their vowelless website which is secretly just a link to their MySpace.

9. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Sounding like The Beatles has been a successful and sometimes musically worthwhile endeavour for countless bands from the 1960s onwards. When I first heard Spoon, around the time of Kill The Moonlight (two albums ago) when they were supporting Interpol at the Olympia, I thought they were taking it a little bit too far. Time, though, has revealed their subtleties to me. Britt Daniel has been doing what he does for a long time now without any spectacular innovation, but the songs seem to get slightly better every album, and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is their best so far. They’re pretty big in America but I’m not sure how far they’ve pervaded into the indie consciousness around here. It doesn’t really matter. The songs all sound like singles, without exception, and far from being The Texas Beatles, Spoon have pretty much eked out a space for themselves completely outside what other people are doing. It’s hard to pick highlights, but You Got Yr Cherry Bomb was #16 in the American Hot Press’ top 100 songs of the year. High praise for independent band.
Many songs on MySpace (though not the one I just let Rolling Stone recommend) and PopMatters gives a comprehensive (i.e. long) review.

8. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha

My fourteen year-old brother asked me today if “these bands just make up a load of words and then put music to them”. Ignoring the fact that this is at least the second most common way of writing music in Western culture, I answered “no”. But I understand what he meant. I was listening to Armchair Apocrypha, The whole album, more than any of Bird’s previous stuff, is a testament to how well read he is, how naturally lyrical he is and most of all the sense he has for finding songs in unusual places. Some of the rhymes on Imitosis are more complex than incredibly rich rap stars, and Scythian Empire deserves some sort of prize for best song based on a Pontic tribe ever written. In fact, there should be a Grammy for that category. In seriousness though, Armchair Apocrypha is musically and lyrically complex while staying accessible at all times, and it is a beautifully noble-sounding listen. Perhaps the only album of 2008 that makes you feel like your IQ is higher every time you finish it.
Read up on the actual Scythian Empire on Wikipedia and then fly to Andrew’s website for a well-stocked A/V section.

7. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
Paw Tracks

Pure as the driven snow. I read somewhere (everywhere) that Panda Bear sounds like Brian Wilson on LSD. Am I the only person in the world that was under the impression that Brian Wilson was on LSD? Maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he was just crazy. Panda Bear’s not crazy though, and he’s also not on LSD. Through sampling, but mostly through his super-soaked vocal layers, he presents the melodies children sing to themselves in playgrounds, the purest, most beautiful music. Animal Collective is Avey Tare’s band, but Person Pitch proves that Panda Bear has his own completely distinct picture to present to the world. It doesn’t sound like Animal Collective in a specific sense, even if they’d be stocked in the same section of a very sub-genred record store. It’s angelic stuff, and it kept me dry and happy on many wet and depressing winter mornings going to college. I have regular revelations listening to this, and it would be higher if not for the slight repetitiveness late on and the quality of some other albums released this year.
MySpace about Panda Bear, and a website about panda bears

6. Liars – Liars

(I’m going to do this one Said The Gramophone style). A Sunday afternoon , waking up hungover, you walk down the stairs, pour a glass of milk and make for your couch. The sun’s shining in the window, so your sore limbs and pinched forehead don’t bother you so much. You lie down and drink your milk. Finishing up, you look for the remote. It’s beside the television. What is the point of a remote control if it’s left beside the TV anyway. Your body has just adjusted to the couch and is refusing to get up, so you sit there quietly. There’s no-one around. Everyone in the house has gone out. The radio is seeping in vaguely from upstairs somewhere. The sunlight is still beaming in at first, but time passes quickly and the short winter afternoon starts to grey. It gets darker and darker, but you stay sitting on your couch, staring at the blank TV. The curtains are open, but you can’t see anything from where you’re lying. It’s raining, probably. That is what this album sounds like.
The video for the tour-de-force first track on YouTube and the website.