To say Panda Bear’s latest is his most accessible is an understatement. Noah Lennox spends a lot of his time with the experimental band Animal Collective who dabble and tweak music to a point where some would puncture their eardrums with ice picks. Over the course his career Lennox has spent time taking that meandering and trying to press it into the incompatible pop mold. He succeeded well with Person Pitch, but the listener had to dig deep to find the hooks and craftsmanship of that incredible set of songs — two of which were over twelve minutes long. Then on Tomboy he found himself dealing with a darkness of death that didn’t translate as well.
Now with Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, Lennox has created a set of songs which are concise, bizarre, and strong. They still deal with death, but in a past-gazing, nearly joyous approach. Here is a collection of tunes, while still psychedelic pop, which are fun and don’t require work to find the hummable sections. While the first two singles — “Mr Noah” and “Boys Latin” — may still cause a “what the hell” initial reaction, songs like “Crosswords” and “Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker” are immediate in their capture of the ear.
Although some may appreciate the two back-to-back ballads, they seem to stall the progress of the album because Lennox doesn’t seem comfortable doing them. Maybe it’s the mix of ambient sound and the harp in “Tropic of Cancer” or the piano and swirling electronics of “Lonely Wanderer.” They seem almost boring compared to the bookends. Thankfully, the rest of the album kicks back into acid-dripped melodic trips. “Principal Real” evokes a 90’s hip-hop feel, “Selfish Genes” is all 80’s keyboards, and the final track, “Acid Wash,” would feel comfortable sitting in the middle of his Person Pitch collection. In all …Grim Reaper is another positive step in Panda Bear’s career and worthy of his mixology talent.