Smile Politely

A Panda Bear’s life outside of an Animal Collective

Whereas Krannert Center may not have been the perfect venue for the (literal) stage-breaking antics of Cap’n Jazz in 2010, the venue’s internationally recognized emphasis on sonic perfection provides Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) an incredible palette for his array of samplers, outboard effects, and various other musical doodads. It’s music for the “thinking man,” from one of the fine founders of Animal Collective, but the kind of thinking done subconsciously while drowning in the vastness of Lennox’ post-psych-pop drones and sweeps, punctuated with art pop melodies and harmonies.

An amateur artist of the ailuropoda melanoleuca mostly limited to illustrations on self-distributed tapes, a 20-year old Lennox released his first music as Panda Bear in 1998. Though this was two years before the surfacing of Animal Collective’s debut Spirit They’re Gone, the latter became Lennox’ main focus. But, the passing of his father drove Lennox to write and record Young Prayer in 2004, the second official release of Animal Collective’s home-label Paw Tracks. This and the resulting critical acclaim revealed that Panda Bear was more than just the mostly unknown precursor to a more successful outfit.  

Released only three years after its predecessor, compared to the previous six-year wait, 2007’s Person Pitch often stands out as one of the best records of the aughts, with media also citing single “Bro’s” as one of the best recordings. At this point, “square” would pass as a common label for any fan of contemporary “independent” music who hadn’t yet heard of Panda Bear. Lennox could headline a festival with and without a “collective.” Naturally, he continued to make music under both, as one of the main contributors to the hugely successful Merriweather Post Pavilion with Animal Collective in 2009, followed by the 2011 release of Panda Bear’s Tomboy. Both earned spots within the top 30 on Billboard’s Top 200 upon release.

According to various interviews, Lennox acknowledges his departure in style in Tomboy from Person Pitch as intentional, a result of his boredom of repeatedly utilizing the same samplers and synthesizers. So, Tomboy is noticeably more guitar-heavy. However, electronics still remain a focal point in his music.

In 2012, Lennox released Centipede Hz. with Animal Collective. But the official catalog of his solo outfit Panda Bear hasn’t increased by much in three years, as usual. Lennox is a busy man living in Libson, Portugal, with a wife and daughter, while he still finds time to release a line of sweatshirts and collaborate with Daft Punk. Though, releasing LPs as important as Merriweather and Person Pitch inevitably results in high demand for new material. For greedy fans, Panda Bear is overdue.

Earlier this year, Lennox revealed his forthcoming solo effort during an interview with Under the Radar tentatively named Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. In the article, Lennox states that he’s working with Pete Kember (with whom he produced Tomboy) and that the record functions more as a stylistic follow-up to Person Pitch than the more recent Tomboy. The interview and its contents spread across the music-blogosphere, with no definitive release date. A drought of details followed for the majority of 2014, aside from new material caught by attendees at various Panda Bear performances.

Suddenly a little over a week ago, a bare-bones website popped up with a new mixtape from Lennox, apparently revealing snippets of the new album pasted in a couple spots along the 40-minute track.

And though little else accompanies the mixtape aside from Soundcloud tags emphasizing Lennox’ involvement as Panda Bear, it might be fair to assume the reveal of more information in the near future. Based on Panda Bear’s tendency to play new material on this tour, it’s more than fair to assume his provision of an audible Panda Bear taste test at Friday’s show, with opener Sun Kil Moon.

Tickets to Panda Bear and Sun Kil Moon’s performance at the Tryon Festival Theater in Krannert Center are only available via festival passes. They perform on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.

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