Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Noah Lennox had a simple goal heading into his sixth Panda Bear album: to scrap its signature blend of psychotropic samples and manic pop melodies and make a fresh start. Considering Animal Collective have been around since 2003, and Panda Bear predates that project by another five years, it’s hard to blame him for wanting to hit the reset button.
Buoys isn’t a complete 180, though. Longtime fans may trace its minimal tracks—many of which feature nothing but a basic guitar progression and gaunt electronic grooves—back to Panda Bear’s first widely available LP, 2004’s Young Prayer. In spirit, at least. A healing set of hymnals for Lennox’s father, who was facing the final stages of terminal cancer at the time, Young Prayer actually has more in common with the abstract folk cuts of Animal Collective (Sung Tongs, especially) than Panda Bear’s new palette.
Beginning with the splish-splash overtones of “Dolphin,” Buoys takes the spacious production techniques of trap and dub in entirely new directions. You’ll need a decent set of speakers or headphones to appreciate its life aquatic loops, but the main takeaway is music that’s deceptively simple.
So while you may find yourself humming alongside the Auto-Tuned hooks of spare numbers like “Master,” “Cranked,” and “Token,” nothing on here reaches for the rafters like Panda Bear’s last full-length did (see: the pure bombast of “Mr Noah” and echo chamber expressionism of “Boys Latin”).
Instead, Buoys gets under your skin, tackling human desire and today’s omnipresent technology head-on. It’s hard to think of a Panda Bear song as unsettling as “Inner Monologue,” for instance. Centered around the string-padded cries (or is it moans?) of someone who’s clearly distraught, it features robotic, free-associative rhymes along the lines of “Look, up from the screen / My god, ran away / Don’t run away / We ran away / Don’t run away.”
Good luck guessing what he’s talking about; maybe it’s better to witness Panda Bear’s rebirth firsthand, and let his deeply human narratives wash over us all once again.