Animal Collective’s last release was 2009’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” The album was a huge critical success garnering placement on many top 10 lists and selling more copies than any of Animal Collective’s previous releases. Since then, each member has participated in various side or solo projects with generally good results, including Avey Tare’s 2010 record “Down There.” But no one thrives outside of Animal Collective better than Panda Bear (Noah Lennox). His 2007 album “Person Pitch” was a seven-track masterpiece, successfully drawing from his previous freak-folk influences and beefing them up with some genuinely impressive production and song writing. On April 12, Lennox released his latest album “Tomboy,” just after Animal Collective’s touring reunion and before an appearance at Coachella. The result is something sonically gorgeous and invigorating.
“Tomboy” is instantly recognizable on the opening track, “You Can Count on Me,” if only for the circuital, reverberating droning that is indicative of Animal Collective’s sound. The repetitive chorus and overall lyrical and vocal inflection is incredibly soothing. Immediately, the record is more subdued and relaxed than his previous works; the noodling effected guitars and carefully arranged vocal harmonies reflect the Beach Boys’ influences that often shape Lennox’s melodies. “Tomboy” is incredibly layered throughout — heavy with syrupy patterns that slosh beneath the vocal arrangements. The effect is similar to listening to a record at the bottom of the swimming pool, an all encompassing auditory experience that envelopes the listener in its thick arrangements. Nowhere is this aesthetic more pervasive than on “Surfer’s Hymn,” a pseudo-beach parable featuring a cyclical-wave pattern that plays from the beginning to the end of the track. Most of the tracks on “Tomboy” are tidal in nature as they creep into a climax and pull back and flow into the next song. Indeed, every track is so carefully structured that it’s almost impossible to digest “Tomboy” all at once; each repeated listen yields something different as each layer is peeled back. In that regard, the album is an audiophile’s delight.
Melodically, “Tomboy” is probably the most accessible Animal Collective affiliated release to date. “Merriweather Post Pavilion” was lauded for similar reasons, which explains its modest commercial success. Essentially, the reason these melodies succeed, just as it was on “Pavilion,” is because the intense watery layers do not drown the vocals. Moreover, they are beautifully constructed in terms harmonic composition. The tunes, though mostly cyclical and droning in style, have discernible chord changes that melodies drift through effortlessly. “Last Night at the Jetty” is the strongest track on “Tomboy” for that very reason. It hunkers down into a groove, and evolves like a typical pop song would. But Lennox’s style is such that it gets creatively turned inside out. There are no songs that are simply verse, chorus, lyrics, changes, etc. While these elements do present themselves in Lennox’s work, they hardly define it. Structure is centered on fitting the words into the melody and the general tone of the song. “Dreams that we once had/ Did we have them anyway?/ Seems that we once had/ Now we’ll have them all the time.” The simplicity of the lyrics is contrasted by Lennox’s harsh vocal inflection and the complex arrangement crafted around it. That’s why “Tomboy” can be cyclical and repetitive in its undertones without sounding repetitive. The pulsing static or rolling, wavy loops serve to distort the basic elements of the song without corrupting it. In turn, each component part of “Tomboy” quite beautifully complements another.
Tomboy works on so many levels and is truly a listening experience. Granted, it does not have the same cohesive feel that made “Person Pitch” so great. There’s a general lack of climax on “Tomboy,” something that detracts from its overall impact. However, Lennox is going for something different here. Every layered piece of the record feels more in its right place, and the final product sounds much less anxious. Tomboy has tracks that provide a much more personal feel due in part to excellent modal lyricism and hummable spacious melodies. It’s an album that gets into the bloodstream and warms the soul. Fans of Panda Bear and Animal Collective will not be disappointed, and if you’re looking to get into some freaky noise music, “Tomboy” wouldn’t be a bad place to start.