Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

by The Insomniac

Top Tracks: Selfish Gene, Crosswords, Tropic of Cancer

It’s been about a month since Panda Bear released Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, about the amount of time it takes to really sink into his explorative songwriting – this collection very obviously a bit more gloomy than his previous work. I decided the only way to truly write out my reaction to this album was do so track-by-track. This LP is very personal, very dark, and every bit as freaky as one would expect from Mr. Noah. Fans of his experimental electronica from Animal Collective and other past solo work will have a lot to look forward to here. Read below as you listen, and let us know what you think of the album.

  1. Sequential Circuits: Repetitive and wandering, a hymn of admission to life’s inevitable dread that follows any temporary satisfaction one may experience while alive. This awareness is present throughout the whole album, and is defined well by the title “Sequential Circuits”, if interpreted as his view of life as an episodic and doomed piece of an ever-churning, relentless circle of life and death, a circus you can never leave.
  2. Mr. Noah: This is when the full nightmare begins. Wimpering broken-legged dogs, growling synths, as if an automaton has gone haywire in its self-realization. A beat emerges from a churning faze. Every hook and verse repeats to drill into your head the self-reflective plight of this sad protagonist. This track was released on Panda Bear’s EP from late 2014, and it served as a good indicator of what was to come. Mr. Noah explores himself and his antics in a harsh tone, touching on past apathy and false inspiration that’s haunted him.
  3. Davy Jones’ Locker: This short instrumental interlude was mixed by Sonic Boom, who produced the LP with Lennox along with his last LP Tomboy in 2011. There are wavering, glimmering streaks, sounding as if they’re winding up faster and faster, like a machine is powering up, sending a communication to some far off place…
  4. Crosswords: This is a spectacular track. Panda Bear can repeat the same line a million times with a different warm, addicting, and echoing melody and it’ll still sound novel. Crosswords is a declaration of defiance against those equating him to his crippling fate, it’s a rare moment of positive outlook on himself on this bright and glimmering piece. But, is he trying too hard to convince himself? The one he might be trying to convince may be in the mirror. Fated or not, this song is “so good, damn it” to say the least.
  5. Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker: Here comes the broken legged dog again, the incarnate haunted theme of this album. Lennox lays a dreary landscape, it’s seems like a nightmare that doesn’t go away and honestly feels a bit uncomfortable. He is casting away memories, realizing how he has cast away those around him over time and blames himself… But is there really fault to be given? If it’s fate, is he off the hook?
  6. Boys Latin: An echoing horizon, a robotic jumbled progression repeats itself, something lifeless as if I’ve found myself inside a circuit board circa Tron. Panda Bear spends his time here worrying about life being too short to enjoy, realizing the only moments we do have here are spent dwelling on the past or looking forward to the future. The ominous deathly clouds in this song may be housing that primordial reaper fated to swoop in and end the game before this is realized by most.
  7. Come to Your Senses: An introduction of chaos that quiets down to a dreamscape where I find myself sprinting down an endless hallway of a haunted mansion. “Are you mad?” Lennox repeats endlessly. It’s a representation of the longing for a creation you once had, but now is gone forever. It makes you crazy. Panda doesn’t seem happy being just a medium, the slaved conduit, but not the source of creation. What’s behind it all? The only answer comes at the end, where it seems you find yourself at a beach with the sounds of looped seagull shrills invading your senses and delivering a direct view into your own madness… something raw and primal.
  8. Tropic of Cancer: Horns announce the song, there’s an army about to march, then a wind remininscent of “My Girls”. Half expecting the familiar quick tri-tone synth loop from that addicting Merriweather Post Pavilion single, I only get a soothing harp to accompany a contemplation of the death of Noah Lennox’s father. How easy it is to cling to denial, to bury those revelations, and how it only adds to the weight of the dark and visceral acceptance of life’s frailty. A few moments pass where it seems the soothing harp-laden melody might melt down into unstructured psychosis as Panda admits there’s no coming back from the Reaper, but he manages to keep his composure, only barely. The end of the track follows the futility of holding on to someone for no reason, but I can’t sum it up any better than Noah can:
  9. So it goes to show what all things know,

    Just one thing keep it live,

    Keep it live, dead or alive,

    These guys get to live on,

    And you give up on the upside,

    Give it up on the other side.

  10. Shadow of Colossus: Another one of Sonic Boom’s instrumentals, this one even shorter. We are back to that machine still powering on, is there something else there? Something alive and becoming aware?
  11. Lonely Wanderer: Enter a gorgeous but sad, wandering piano, working to build up small flames of longing only to get snuffed out by crushing deep synths. There is an atmosphere like walking through a timeless garden, with little entities flying around minding their own business, representing the memories Panda Bear muses about, constantly looking back. Is it worthwhile? Wasting time in this lost place, a place of loss and time wasted? Before you know, you are snuffed out for good by a dark deep mist.
  12. Principe Real: Finally the engine starts up again with a promising beam of light shining through those dark clouds. The ominous dog is back again, but this is Panda Bear’s triumphant escape. He is too busy flying through space in search of euphoria to escape that hopeless beaten dog in the forefront of his mind. For a moment there is sunlight over the grim.
  13. Selfish Gene: Hypnosis mastered. Clean repetitive synths wave back and forth as Noah unleashes the most addicting vocal melody of the album, laying out a lesson for all to rely less on the outside world for answers and purpose, but only to look inside. It’s a song of ego-loss, but it’s also a rallying call. Surrendering creative ingenuity to the inanimate and faceless bliss of fate is a flawed mindset. You are not your clothes, you are not the people you know, you are not a slave to destiny. Tyler Durden would agree. Others can cover up with superficiality all they want but they are in denial. But even Noah admits this outlook is hard to hold on to, and that we’re bound to slip up again.
  14. Acid Wash: All the skeletons, wounded animals, sneering ghouls, and demons have been awakened and march in unison to the direction of the grim, but it’s hard to tell if they are retreating or making their final assault on Noah’s mind. Or maybe they are taking their bow, because after all, it’s all a show in his head. Noah blurts out his last admission, “I’m Past”, in a spectacular fireworks display of glittering bliss. He may have lost but he lost laughing in its face.