Not even irony can save Panda Bear, aka Noah Lennox, with this album title. Panda Bear’s lyrics, let alone his music compositions, hardly circle the theme of death or even dark explicit tones. Fellow Animal Collective band mate Avey Tare’s latest Slasher Flicks record was a more thoughtful indication of death compared to Panda Bear’s pouncing rhythmical record.
Lennox, born in New York, resided in Baltimore, now lives in Portugal with his wife and two children; a clutter-free, picturesque beachside estate. Now, more than ever on a Panda bear record, the quiet beach life makes it’s way into the music. Constant samples of swirling waters and seagulls in the background whirl into a custom-designed floral-washed wallpaper on opening track Sequential Circuits.
It’s the fascinating moments of spacious resilience and hostility found in most Panda Bear tracks on this album that speak the loudest. Tropic of Cancer is a meditative reflection to the psychedelic dub that litters the majority of these Grim Reaper tracks. Always referenced for his choirboy hymns, Tropic of Cancer acts as a well-earned moment of quiet contemplation. Lennox’s cathartic, yet sometimes monotonous droning repetition in the instrumentation, has always been a counter point to his intelligent and soaring vocal harmonies. The more melodically cluttered tracks on Grim Reaper serve as a paradoxical vision of his adopted hometown of Lisbon, Portugal. Which is somewhat surprising, given the excess of the music Lennox makes with its umpteen layers of vocals and dense thickets of rhythm.
Previous singles Mr. Noah and Boys Latin lock in an early groove and ride it throughout, slowing building until the song’s final coda. Given the song’s robust and ambitious planned repetition, the slightest rhythmical adjustment or extra sample spurred into the rumbling waters feels like a triumph of musical complexion. Several listens deep into Grim Reaper, those minute alterations become something you yearn for and eagerly await its presence — reminiscent to a 30-minute behemoth Swans track.
“I feel like the point is to reveal more of your life to other people, and my instinct is to go the opposite way,” Panda Bear revealed in a recent interview with Pitchfork.
Another idiosyncratic response to his own music which revels in some hefty personal matters — recalling his father’s death on his 2011 solo record Tomboy and again here on Grim Reaper with Tropic of Cancer. It’s Lennox’s passion for his family and beachside estate in the heart of Portugal which make his music much more relatable and vivid to any psychedelic pop outing he can get away with.