© 2022 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Pop Music That Leaks out of the World

Panda Bear, a.k.a. Noah Lennox, stitches music together so that the seams show.
Panda Bear, a.k.a. Noah Lennox, stitches music together so that the seams show.

Noah Lennox might be best known as a member of Animal Collective, a group of guys whose music sounds like Beach Boys melodies sung around a drum circle in the middle of the woods. Person Pitch is Lennox's new solo album as Panda Bear, and from start to finish it's a knockout, full of simple, personal lyrics elevated by gorgeous melodies and detailed production.

Lennox has implanted "natural" sound all over the record — an owl hoots, a car zooms by in the left channel, fireworks explode, an overheard moan hiccups into a laugh — but the sound effects aren't used as punctuation. Instead, dropped into the songs as ornamentation, they make Person Pitch sound like music leaking out of the world, a record made for hearing on a walk around the neighborhood. It's as if Brian Wilson ditched Van Dyke Parks and made Smile with sound artist Janet Cardiff.

"Take Pills" provides a neat little encapsulation of the record as a whole. Split in two, it opens in drone-mode, with Lennox's vocals seeping into the mix under a gently loping rhythm. The pretty-but-sleepy melody is so buried underneath echoey washes of distortion and sampled noise that Lennox might as well be singing in another language for all the lyrics that can be made out. That is, until the part where he sings, "It gets better, just wait and you'll see..."

At this point, it does. A little splash of water and Lennox wakes up: "I don't want for us to take pills anymore / I'm not that into that / I feel stronger and we don't need 'em," he sings. His sentiment is so direct, the melody so clean, to the point where it's physically difficult to resist singing along.

The same process unfolds over and over again on Person Pitch: Lennox stitches music together so that the seams show, so that listeners notice the way one theme emerges from another, the same way someone can walk down the street, whistle a tune, and then hear echoing drumbeats and an arrhythmic clatter of horns before seeing the marching band swing around the corner. It's immediate, arresting and perfect for a few short minutes; then it's gone, on its way.

This column originally ran on Mar. 13, 2007.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.