It’s long been received wisdom that Panda Bear, aka 40-year-old Noah Lennox, was always the most poptastic member of Baltimore experimentalists Animal Collective. That narrative prophesied that it was he that sprinkled magic dust on the band’s psychedelic musings, inviting a more mainstream audience into their multi-coloured world. And, sure enough, the collective’s latest album, last year’s ‘Tangerine Reef’, recorded without Lennox, was a grimly dour, self-indulgent affair.
‘Buoys’, Panda Bear’s sixth solo album, is anything but dour (though like anything anyone from Animal Collective touches, you could argue that it’s tad self-indulgent). This is a wistful, loved-up record in awe of the world, its sonic pallet living up to that title – it’s buoyant, you know? ‘Dolphin’, the album’s lead single, hooks a woozy acoustic guitar refrain around a sound effect that resembles gloop splashing into a puddle, a cute psychedelic touch that suggest this will be a mildly trippy alt-pop record.
‘Cranked’ operates on a similar tip, replacing that slashing sound with what sounds like sparks of a ray gun. “Heat in the heart… Just takes a spark”, he beams. Although the words are basically meaningless, Lennox’s blissful tone swells with significance and the sense of joy is palpable. The title track brings fizzing percussion into the mix, the effect that of a firework bursting overhead. ‘Inner Monologue’, meanwhile, deviates entirely, a lilting emo-rap acoustic guitar line looped over mournful organ keys and snatches of someone’s shortened breath, as though Lennox’s children have brought him up to date with the tropes of Soundcloud rap.
There’s not a huge amount of deviation, no, but the tone is consistent – that of someone who is melancholy, meditative but ultimate optimistic. Lennox has said that it should “feel familiar to a young person’s ears”, and there is certainly a sense of wide-eyed wonder here.
This is a nine-song collection of modest ambition, but ‘Buoys’ undoubtedly succeeds on its own terms, that consistently understated sonic template interspersed with surprising moments – the bassy thud of electronic drums that interrupts ‘Crescendo’, the hip-hop style piano riff that marches through ‘Master’ – that makes it a rewarding repeat listen. Lennox emerges as a pop-focused artist with an ear for the absurd.