Noah Lennox's Panda Bear project has always been about making "difficult" music scan as almost radio-friendly, to translate experimental moves to a broad audience with little interest in such things. It's a strategy he learned, at least in part, from sonic forebears like Arthur Russell and Brian Wilson, along with the avant-techno types he reveres. Like those disparate influences, Lennox has used potentially off-putting compositional and textural ideas to craft some of the most inviting music of his era. In turn, he's inspired more of his own followers in the last four years than anyone might have guessed. Lennox has found himself the unwitting king of the chillwave nation, hero to a whole generation of underground kids drawn to his mix of heavy reverb, sun-woozy synths, droning kraut-surf-ambient-pop songs, high childlike voice, and psychedelic-cum-nostalgic sleeve art.
Tomboy, Lennox's fourth solo album as Panda Bear, was mixed with Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember of Spectrum/Spacemen 3. And again, in a way there's little here that's any further out-there than the blissful psychedelia and dream-pop Spacemen 3 and their peers were playing in the late 1980s, a lineage that stretches right back to stuff we now consider classic rock. With its angelic choirboy harmonies over an unchanging synth buzz, even "Drone", the album's roughest song, is a dead-ringer for the way Spacemen 3 songs like "Ecstasy Symphony" merged the pop high of Beach Boys with the woozy downer feel of the Velvet Underground.
But despite Tomboy's shorter songs and more conventional structures-- especially compared to the loose percussive jams of Lennox's 2007 solo breakthrough Person Pitch-- he's still committed to pushing his music to strange places. And few of his chilled-to-the-point-of-entropy acolytes can match Lennox for warped hooks. Forget comparing his gorgeous voice to their mumbling. Unlike many chillwave and dream-pop artists (and Spacemen 3), Lennox is blessed with the ability to actually sing, and he knows enough about crafting harmonies to do more than vaguely nod in the direction of 60s pop. So Tomboy is a pretty singular mix of the eerie and the inviting.
Despite the murk and terror and noise of Animal Collective's earliest music, there's never been anything particularly ugly about Lennox's mature solo work, starting with 2004's Young Prayer. But even then, he wasn't comfortable playing the laid-back hippie stereotype that's been laid on A.C. by detractors in recent years. Young Prayer might still be the most emotionally wrenching album in the Collective's catalog, an album written by a young man wrestling with some heavy shit. Lennox's father was dying of brain cancer while Young Prayer was being written. "
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