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Has Panda Bear Produced the Best Release of 2007?

           

A couple of weekends back, I had lunch with my friend Albin, author of The Poetics of Rock. Our conversation eventually turned, as it always does, to what music we’d each been listening to. I was somewhat at a loss when asked to name new recordings that had blown me away—maybe my fogginess had something to do with lingering exhaustion from a wedding reception the night before. Then again, maybe it had more to do with the fact that I hadn’t had sufficient time to take in the new discs I’ve gotten since mid-April. On the drive back from Ypsilanti, however, I realized there was an obvious choice that should have leapt immediately to mind: Person Pitch, the solo release of Panda Bear (a member of Animal Collective).

If you’ve read only a few posts here, learning that I’m hype-averse won’t come as any surprise. Good press, after all, can be a double-edged sword. Person Pitch CD Cover While it can get people to open their ears to something they might not have considered, it might also raise expectations so high as to guarantee skepticism, if not disappointment. The praise that accompanied this release, promulgated by online indie rock sites, immediately generated wariness in me. Could the album be that good? Would the reviewers proclaiming it to be the best release of 2007 (before the end of May) be forced to eat their words by year’s end?

After listening to the album constantly for the last month or so, I’m ready to cast my lot with the critics who believe Person Pitch to be the most brilliant release thus far in 2007. And while I’m hopeful there’ll be another mind-blowing release this year, I’m doubtful that anything I know that’s coming will top Person Pitch. Here’s why.

On hearing it for the first time last week, Samantha suggested that “Pink Floyd and the Beach Boys had a love child that started doing LSD at the age of 5” and that child, now all-grown up, had produced this recording. She said that immediately after hearing “Take Pills,” the first track I played for her. A dissection of the track—which is perhaps the result of fusing two independently conceived songs—makes it clear why her description was so apt.

The track begins with difficult-to-identify clattering, atmospheric noises (skateboarding?) that quickly coalesce into an off-kilter rhythmic pattern. Soon thereafter other sounds—bass, percussion, and guitar—enter but do little to clarify things. That is, as a first-time listener, even given a metric/rhythmic template, I had no idea where the tune was going. When PB’s Beach-Boy-esque vocals, drenched in reverb, start shortly before the one-minute mark, they are achingly beautiful but hardly what this listener might have expected. And when, little more than a minute later, the multi-tracked vocal started fading, with successive high-pitched lines being removed on each repetition of the phrase “wait and you’ll see,” it was clear that some sort of transition was happening. But a transition to what?

A moment of metric blurriness led finally into a two-beat bass pattern that couldn’t have seemed more at odds with or different from the one that preceded it. The lyrics sung on top of that pattern were fairly straightforward, but the presentation, harmonization and distribution of them took them to another realm. Supporting the main melody were background vocals sometimes intoning the words “take pills” and sometimes reinforcing the main text. The layering is so effective, so catchy, that I’ve spent the days since I first heard the track singing its latter half to myself—constantly and sometimes with a dangerous lack of self-consciousness.

The remainder of the album contains similar consistent, disjunctive and catchy surprises. The chief evidence might be tracks like the epic “Bros” and “Im Not” [sic]. All of these tracks are easily located online either via Panda Bear’s MySpace page (link above) or a search on The Hype Machine. Of course, everyone would be better served if you purchased it from your favorite independent record store.

Unless something really drastic happens (warning: effusive praise ahead), this release won’t just be among the best things I’ve heard in 2007. It’ll be something to which, like Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock, Can’s Tago Mago, Cocteau Twins’ Treasure and Radiohead’s OK Computer, I will repeatedly and lovingly turn when I want aural ecstasy…

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