Remaining a relevant indie-mainstream musician into one’s 30s and 40s is a tremendously steep climb, but to have your greatest breakthrough during music’s so-called “twilight years” has mysteriously become commonplace in today’s music. James Murphy released the most celebrated album of his LCD Soundsystem career before hanging up the towel in 2011 at the age of 41. Daft Punk is arguably as relevant in their late thirties making disco revival than they were in their twenties reinventing popular electronic music. And, on the cusp of his fifth LP, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, it’s all but apparent that the best thing Noah Lennox has ever done professionally was turn 30.
For the uninitiated, Lennox spawned his stage name Panda Bear and his most famous project, Animal Collective, from a self-titled solo LP back in 1998. Lennox’s solo work and Animal Collective have consistently churning into the jubilant grey intersections between experimental/noise rock, electronic, and psychedelic surf pop since then, but it was Panda Bear’s Person Pitch that knighted him as indie royalty. Released on the eve of Lennox’s 30th birthday in 2007, Pitch was Lennox’s most buoyant, straightforward songs of his career while maintaining the delightful freakiness coated over his career’s sonic exploration. Critical response was ecstatic, which set the stage for Animal Collective’s definitive work to date, Merriweather Post Pavillion, in 2008. Regarded as one of the greatest albums of the decade and century thus far, Merriweather fully realized the band’s psychedelic pop adoration and opened the gates wide for features on Daft Punk records, a wider expanse of side projects, and numerous rising bands citing Animal Collective as a major influence. Panda Bear had remained mum on new material since 2011’s Tomboy, but gave a taste with the Mr. Noah EP in 2014. Now, mere days away from meeting The Grim Reaper, four years of anticipation are bearing down on second single, “Boys Latin,” to fulfill.
Burbling to life with a murky, repetitive beat, Panda Bear is relying solely on his voice to carry “Latin” into his past two records’ stratospherically gazing territories. There’s never a doubt though because Lennox is almost certainly the illegitimate love child of Brian Jones, meaning he can put an off-kilter arpeggiator on his voice, sing indecipherably, and still sound like pure summery bliss. As jokey as that may sound, Panda Bear’s success is in his calculation and his ability to make well-stacked, yet woozy layers of sound. Case in point: the “Latin” video is either two humans sticking their fingers into weird land crustaceans, becoming temporary mutants, clearing themselves of their new spikes and tentacles, and saving a small child from a mushroom…or it’s a meditation on the fears of becoming a parent. Much like the video, Panda Bear has once again created a world entirely relatable and fantastic in “Latin,” proving once and for all that relevance can be achieved, even if the so-called Reaper has begun its approach.