- The Animal Collective cofounder strips back his sound, but loses something in the process.
- Noah Lennox put out his first record as Panda Bear in 1998, years before he debuted with Animal Collective, but the Panda Bear we know wouldn't take shape till almost a decade later. In 2007, after moving to Lisbon, getting married and having a child, Lennox released Person Pitch, an album of loopy psychedelic pop that embodied a surprising number of the influences listed in its liner notes. That record was a blueprint for everything that's come since. Seabreeze melodies, sun-kissed electronics and oblique, nursery rhyme-style lyrics are still his forté, 12 years and three albums later. It is an extraordinarily rich and singular sound. But with Buoys, it feels thin for the first time.
That's not because this sound has gotten old—if anything, it's proven to have staying power. It's more that, if Lennox's past albums were all quite generous, this one feels a bit stingy. Its nine tracks play out in just over half an hour. Their compositions are all quite similar, at any moment made up of little more than Lennox's voice, mellow strums of the guitar and electronic sounds adding texture and atmosphere. If it weren't drowning in effects, it would sound like an acoustic album.
That might work if Lennox's songwriting was hitting new heights, but here, too, he's giving us less than usual. The melodies have their usual childlike playfulness, but not the haunting quality that's lent them so much mystery and depth in the past. Same goes for the lyrics. Take this one from "Token": "Get / into the building / Slide into a warm robe / It's been / building all my life / A soft whisper for the last time." The strange, daydreamy logic of Lennox's best lyrics is there, but the ineffable quality that would make them resonate is not. (That song works best paired with its music video, directed by and starring Dean Blunt).
Listening to Buoys, it's hard not to miss what Philip Sherburne once called the "ecstatic excess" of Lennox's music. Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper and Person Pitch were veritable feasts of sound, with ghostly ballads like "Tropic Of Cancer" offsetting kaleidoscopic epics like the glorious "Bros." Those two albums, released eight years apart, are peaks in a career that also includes seminal records from Animal Collective. In a discography like that, something as slight as Buoys could only be a minor work.
04. I Know I Don't Know
07. Inner Monologue
09. Home Free