My first thought: it’s like Person Pitch, but in four-minute bursts.
Then: it beats the chillwavers at their own game. Where others are hipstamatic-knowing, Noah Lennox is enlightening and joyful, still gazing in wonder at the sheer splendour and excitement of being alive.
Person Pitch was ambitious, but Tomboy isn’t, and doesn’t need to be either. The soaring vocal melodies seem familiar in spite of their originality—the true test of great songwriting. The arrangements are perhaps more skeletal, but this isn’t a good qualification: Lennox’s music is still lush and witty, but it is now less reliant on lengthy quoting of other people’s phrases.
He’s also picked up a guitar, though you shouldn’t expect this to sound like a White Stripes record. The axe-work is severely processed and, to a casual observer, might not even be recognisable. But it’s there alright, and it’s dead important. People have long pored over the unique tone and mouthfeel of the guitar, and some people have tried to replicate it on other instruments, making their keyboards sound like guitars. Other people do their best to make guitars sound like keyboards. In the former case, there’s no substitute; in the latter case, you can never destroy the fundamental essence of the instrument.
On my favourite track on Tomboy, “Last Night At The Jetty“, Lennox positions one of his characteristic chants over a gently murmuring guitar figure, and the constancy of the track makes it all the more remarkable. Where he might have once got fidgety, and suddenly transformed the song into a Scott Walker sample, now he is content to let the pop song good-times wash over him, and us, and let the thing run its natural course.
The synthetic Panda Bear remains, in places, but it’s so much more like a carnival than the kids’ paddling pool party of Person Pitch. Even at its least organic, on the mid-point drone of “Drone”, Lennox sounds in touch with the natural world, like a kid at the aftermath of the circus, lying in the grass, staring up at the night sky, soaking up the negative space in the air. The vocal phrasing is unhurried, becoming just another instrument in the mix, alongside the exhaling synths. Words become unimportant.
The album ends with “Benfica”, which could be a terrace anthem for Lennox’s local football team, circa the thirty-first century. As the chanting of the crowd slowly envelops the Vangelis-like chords, Panda Bear’s music reaches acceptance with the masses.♦