This is coming from a place of love, but the Animal Collective crew have been providing diminishing returns for me since the Fall Be Kind EP. I used to be a true believer, I would force people to listen to songs like “Grass” or “Who Could Win a Rabbit,” sometimes to the other person’s delight, sometimes to their chagrin. I used to be excited when word of a project arose, now I sort of cringe, albeit hopefully.
I’ve listened to Panda Bear’s new album about five times now, and the best thing that I can say about it is that it isn’t like, aggressively bad. The worst thing that I can say is that once I listened to it on shuffle and I didn’t even realize it until the song I have deemed the best came on out of order.
Maybe I just need to be stoned, but I hope that’s not the case. For one thing, a night of possible psychedelic terror and anxiety is not worth it to maybe enjoy one album. For another thing, even the most psychedelic of masterpieces must stand on its own merits. Buoys, in my opinion, doesn’t stand, it just kind of leans in the corner and leers, glassy-eyed, at passers by.
The first time listener may be temporarily excited by the presence of an untreated acoustic guitar, something that we haven’t heard the likes of from Panda since around Sung Tongs, but that excitement quickly wears off. The guitar isn’t used melodically, it’s more of a rhythmic thing, but I’ll be damned if the same guitar sound doesn’t grace almost every song on the album, a listless and soulless strum that’s just kind of there.
Panda’s vocals are right up front too, gone are the days when he seemed to be recording his albums in some sort of underwater cathedral. Now it sounds like he recorded the album with the mic right next to his lips while he was standing by a drippy sink.
With the vocals right up front, sometimes twisted with the almost tasteful use of autotune, the lyrics really have a chance to shine through, which is a real shame, because vocals have always kind of been just another instrument for the AnCo boys, and once you figure out what they are saying, there are two possible reactions. One is simply, “What the fuck?” The other is a nervous kind of giggle that indicates pity. Take, for instance, this gem from “Token”: The facts of a piece of plastic/Tough, won’t crumble/A slap on a jelly ass. Come on now, what the fuck? And that’s my favorite song on the album, no lie, for the way it opens up into something approaching his prior sublimity on the chorus, and for that I can forgive the lyrics.
I’ll probably listen to the record again, maybe in the summer; maybe it’s jut not a winter record, but I can’t really recommend. I’ll just have to wait for the next time an AnCo project drops so I can see if they’ve rekindled the old fire.