Credit: Matteo Mobilio
by Paul Attard Featured Kicking the Canon Kicking the Canon Music

Panda Bear — Person Pitch

May 2, 2022

Contrary to popular belief — or, at least, contrary to the ongoing narrative at the time — Person Pitch was not Panda Bear’s first solo studio release, but actually his third. Before that, there was an unimpressive self-titled LP that quickly came and went in 1999, only to go out of print by 2004 (looking back, Noah Lennox disdainfully described the project as having “like two or three songs that I guess I still like”). Which, lucky coincidence or not, just so happened to the same year he would produce the minimal Young Prayer in the span of a few days following the death of his father, recorded in the same room he passed in; the mastering process was so expeditious — and the music itself so transitory and fragile — that Lennox didn’t title any of the songs, out of fear that they’d be too intrusive. But one could be easily forgiven for assuming Person Pitch was, indeed, Panda Bear’s inaugural project and not a tertiary effort; compared to those two relatively minor previous works — and, to be honest, the records that followed after — this one still easily towers above the rest of Lennox’s distinguished discography, serving as a grander and more accomplished autobiographical introduction.

Yet, labeling Person Pitch as any sort of commencement address or inaugural effort feels contradictory to what the record sets out to achieve on a thematic level: to articulate the innate and internal pressures of emotional maturation by reflecting on the bewildering, turbulent experience of entering into young adulthood. In the three-year span between this release and his last, Lennox had a kid, got married, and moved from Baltimore to Lisbon; so for each year he spent on the approaching endeavor, he had at least one life-changing event shape not just the sound and style of the record, but re-configure himself as a musician, husband, and father. The lyrics, which are often straightforward mantras that are difficult to decipher under all that vocal layering and distortion, confront these developments head-on, switching from playful (the coy mocking of an unnamed party, one who belittles those “who don’t know what’s up like you’re so sure you do”) to profound — the unyielding belief that “coolness is having courage / courage to do what’s right,” announced right at the onset of “Comfy in Nautica” — oftentimes on the same song. “Take Pills,” in particular, locates a firm balance between these dual methodologies within its general bipartite structure — a two-parter centered on his mother’s depression, prescription drug addiction, and eventual recovery — that finds Panda’s muted vocals on the first half overtaken by the soaring high tenor of the second. The track’s overall sentiment is that she’ll feel “stronger if we don’t need them,” but Lennox also prudently acknowledges there’s nothing wrong with taking them in the first place; it’s a grace note of precocity, one which acknowledges that everyone’s own internal struggles will always differ from your own.

Besides, the actual music itself fits that bill far more accordingly. Largely composed of distorted samples and loops from Lennox’s Boss SP-303 sampler — as a result of his other instruments being held by international customs — it marked a complete stylistic shift from Panda Bear’s near-decade of music-making up to that point; even though he had been Animal Collective’s drummer for seven years, he had no involvement with any of the backing percussions on the album. Gone were the vibrant melodies and intense guitar-based improvisation found on Feels or Strawberry Jam (the latter released the same year), or even the acoustic arrangements of Sung Tongs. Instead, we get a greater sense of the wide array of artistic influences — many of whom are thanked in the album’s lengthy liner notes — that helped develop Panda Bear into the artist he is today, especially in regard to his love of hip-hop, reggae, electronic, and dub music: Basic Chanel, Aphex Twin, The Beach Boys, Ricardo Villalobos, Kraftwerk, Dr. Dre, Arthur Russell, Lee “Scratch” Perry, and the list goes (literally) on and on. They can all be heard, at one point or another, in the seven densely layered and equally freewheeling compositions that comprise the ambitious album’s runtime, a sprawling 40-some minutes that will, on occasion, feature stray animal calls, droning planes, sobbing women, and crying babies — or you might get a single like the epic 12-minute-long “Bros” that features all of those haphazard noises and a few more. It’s a track that continues to serve as the grandiose peak of Lennox’s impressive songwriting abilities even some 15 years after the fact, a conspicuous stream of consciousness centerpiece that, much like Person Pitch itself, effectively bridged the gap between adolescent volatility and middle-age stability.

Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.