Near the end of 2010, Panda Bear (a/k/a Noah Lennox of Animal Collective) will release his fourth full-length album, Tomboy. To say the disc is highly-anticipated would be a slight understatement. After the crowning glory of his previous solo album, 2007’s Person Pitch (which not only topped Pitchfork’s Album of the Year charts but also ranked in the top ten of their Albums of the Decade), Panda Bear reconvened his Animal Collective brethren and followed it up with 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, which also found its rightful place atop innumerable magazine and blog polls come year’s end. Through it all, Lennox has remained resilient in following his singular vision and voice. “I’ve definitely traversed some kind of mindfield the last year or so and it hasn’t always been pleasant or easy,” Lennox says. “But it’s been more a positive irritant than anything else.” Tomboy proves, above all else, that he’s risen to the challenge and surpassed (as well as sidestepped) all expectations. And in following up Person Pitch, Panda Bear has again taken to releasing the album as a batch of separate singles first. “Doing the singles helps me focus on every song and also helps me move along in the process.”
Also part of the process was moving past the gear that informed the dense sonic tapestries of Person Pitch and MPP: “I got tired of the severe parameters of using samplers. Thinking about Nirvana and the White Stripes got me into the idea of doing something with a heavy focus on guitar and rhythm.” Favoring a darker, more-streamlined sound on Tomboy, Lennox went for a more visceral and direct approach, though that rock tendency was offset by another old influence on Lennox: “With regards to where I am with Tomboy, I’m definitely reliving middle school and all the Baltimore R&B radio we used to ingest.”
It lends itself to the paradox of the title itself. Lennox explains: “A lot of the songs are about something that’s in conflict with itself, so the image of a ‘tomboy’ has become the overseeing figure as far as the group of songs go.” It might even exemplify the conflict of Panda Bear himself: underground and experimental in his approach to sound, he also strives to craft gorgeous pop for the widest audience possible. With Tomboy, he’s attained his greatest balance between the two extremes yet.