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Noah Lennox's latest album deals with death. As ghastly as that sounds rest assured the album is anything but. The narrative driven by character development starts with "Sequential Circuits", a slow boiling soup pot of robotic vocals that showcase youth and naivety at extremely high vocal tones. The comedown after this transitions into "Mr. Noah," one of the strongest tracks of the album that features some early whining and whimpering of dogs before opening up to combat the uncomfortable space with a boomerang beat that runs rickshaw style all over the place:
This dog got bit on a leg
He got a really big chip on a leg
Don't want to get out of bed
Unless he feel like it justified
The shift to pain and affliction is sensed on "Mr. Noah" and the uncomfortableness of the canine samples serve as an excellent catalyst to this, yet somehow this song still manages to be graciously auditory in its delivery, especially if you're not paying attention. The latest single “Boys Latin” is thought provoking and shifts the dialogue to acceptance and is a gentle nod to The Boys’ Latin School of Maryland where Noah attended, the track demonstrates (see accompanying music video) mindfulness in the most vividly creative and mind altering of ways.
While not reaching the lofty heights of Person Pitch , Reaper is a steady ebb and flow of flourishing segues and precious gems, a few of which will stand memorable amongst Lennox's entire discography (with and without a band); chiefly, "Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker", "Tropic of Cancer," and the tranquil (and personal favorite) "Lonely Wanderer". "Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker's" obsessive use of a woodblock becomes oddly satisfying and provides a solid foundation for a song that sounds like it's a transitional liquid, highly entertaining. "Tropic of Cancer" is one of the longer tracks on the album and the calming harp borrowed from the Nutcracker bestows a sense of calming tranquility that permeates throughout the right and left of the brain.
Tranquility is disturbed momentarily for "Shadow of the Colossus" in what I believe to be a fitting tribute to the "antagonists" of one of the most beautifully designed video games of all time, Shadow of the Colossus for the Playstation 2. The protagonist of the game is the sole focus of the next song, "Lonely Wanderer". For the non video game addicts, Shadow of the Colossus plays out the story of Wander, a quiet hero who travels to a forebidden land to resurrect a long lost love. Armed with a sword, bow and arrow, and trusty horse Agro, Wander must face trial and tribulation by destroying giant Colossi of the land in order to power the magic altar required to restore the maiden to life. Simple in premise but beautifully orchestrated in presentation and ambient detail (the game features minimal dialogue), the game makes for a compelling canvas that has you constantly reflecting on human reasoning and relationships. I've digressed a bit but the game is simply more than just what it is labeled for entertainment purposes and really should be experienced by everyone. "Lonely Wanderer" samples a supreme piano piece by French composer Claude Debussy and the beauty carries over into the new genre with impeccable results thanks to Noah's use of seemingly endless descending and downshifting vocals. The song questions the mindset of Wander throughout his travels and like the best form of art no matter the medium, leaves the answer to the inquiring mind of the investigator.
The back end of Reaper does lag a bit which is especially noticeable with "Selfish Gene," a song that while supposed to deliver a moment of clarity in the narrative unfortunately ends up being a bit of drab with piercing synthesizers that never really morph or evolve, tame by Panda standards. "Acid Wash" regains from the stumble albeit barely with it's rigid underwater march approach. For the closer I honestly felt it a bit lethargic but it doesn't detract too much from a holistic experience that is still grounded in blissful electro pop communion.
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is an interesting album in that it's lyrical exploration is engaging in a way that deals with the journey towards death and decay in the most optimistic and introverted of ways amongst alternating percolating vocal harmonies. While it's a safe guess that the Panda Bear avatar could be coming to a close (based on interviews with Noah and lyrical subject matter) it's nice to look back at the trail of albums released under the moniker and smile knowing Noah's fictional journey towards the grim reaper was a pleasant one.