Album Review: Panda Bear - Mr Noah EP

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

It's been a great year and a half or so for writing albums about death. Most recently, Flying Lotus killed on impact with his incredible You're Dead!, but Noah Lennox, a.k.a. Panda Bear, isn't far behind. Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper has been whispered around the Animal Collective spheres for what feels like forever, and now that it's actually coming out, we can't wait to get our hands and ears on it. Thankfully, Lennox is a merciful dude, and in anticipation of the full length (out this January on Domino), we get a fantastic taste test of the ominous adventure to come with the Mr Noah EP. Taking the lead single from Grim Reaper and giving us three additions entirely separate from the full-length, Mr Noah is a fit prequel to one of Panda Bear's most high concept efforts yet. Braving brighter and braver sonic textures than ever before, Panda Bear faces the Reaper with a grim confidence. There is something to be learned from Mr Noah and all of his surprises.

"You don't want to get out of bed unless you feel like it's justified." Ain't that the way, Mr. Noah? So stays the central theme of the lead single off Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper. Based off the album title alone, we can assume that, Panda Bear being the artist at hand, Lennox is the narrator in his own story here. What we have in "Mr Noah", therefore, is an exposition. As the excellent AB/CD/CD video tells the story, we find ourselves chained in a cyclical world of meaningless madness, barking at the masses to no ultimate effect. What justifies getting out of bed in the morning then, you ask? Well, that's an answer that I'm guessing we won't get until the full length record drops. In the meantime, Mr Noah gives us a closer look at our main character, through three additional pieces of magic.

Historically, Panda Bear has played with ultra minimalism, overwhelming sample-based complexity, and pretty much everything in between. I dare to say that Mr Noah falls to the side of saturation, without ever losing its listenability along the way. "Faces In The Crowd" is a fantastic example. Chock full of drum n bass-tinged drum fills, crowd noise, and other psychedelic magic, the track is ultimately guided by one note at a time from an organ, as Noah belts out watery line after watery line of musing. The contrast of complexity and melancholy brilliantly plays into the song's theme, and may be one of the catchier cuts of Lennox's solo discography. "Untying The Knot" puts an eastern spin on the stylistic techniques Panda Bear channeled on Tomboy cuts like "Slow Motion". The modal sphere builds on itself over the course of three seductive minutes and eventually fades into the distance before you know any time has passed. Panda Bear sure hasn't lost his ability to break time and space in his music like he did on Person Pitch and, well, pretty much every record he's been a part of since then.

"This Side of Paradise" is our closer, and it's a head scratcher of a track. It's the longest track on Mr Noah, and is a spiraling, jumbled collection of cryptic advice ("every fish that swims in the sea - don't eat it"?) all with the goal of gaining an idea of common sense. Common sense... what a bizarre concept by nature, especially when we live in such a weird, weird world. Combined with the rest of the Mr Noah EP, "This Side of Paradise" helps us see the main character of this epic narrative in an interesting light. On this side of death, Mr Noah searches for common sense and some semblance of justification in his actions - don't we all? I won't be too hasty, but I'd venture to bet that his adventure with the Grim Reaper is going to teach him a lot more about living than dying.

Mr Noah is out now on Domino, and its big brother Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper will arrive on January 13! Head to the Animal Collective online store to grab your Grim Reaper pre-orders, complete with an incredible t-shirt of the Mr Noah cover art. Also, head to the album's website to see an incredible trailer for the full length. Panda Bear just finished up a string of dates leading up to the album release, but keep an eye on his Facebook for announcement of dates next year!

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