Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear, broke through in the UK as a solo artist in 2007 with his third album, Person Pitch. Then last year his band Animal Collective performed the same feat with their latest neo-psychedelic LP, Merriweather Post Pavilion. In the meantime, Lennox has become a much in-demand collaborator.
At Heaven for one third of a brief European tour, Lennox takes the stage alone and apologises for taking his time tuning up before he plays a note. Originally a drummer by trade, these days he has eschewed the skins in favour of digital beats. He wears an electric guitar, and in front of him are keyboards of both varieties. As Panda Bear, Lennox is very much a one-man band. His opening number,“Drone”, is just that: portentous, angular electronica with a bone-shaking bass hum and distinct echoes of Aphex Twin.
For “Surfer’s Hymn”, he wails a Beach Boys harmony over a wash of digital ones and zeroes as the atmospheric (and occasionally discomfiting) video montage loops behind him. This is slow-paced, difficult stuff, half a world away from the joyful pop gems of Merriweather Post Pavilion. There are few familiar songs in this set, but the crowd seems pleased to hear “I’m Not” from Person Pitch, the first recognisable tune of the evening.
Lennox’s solo output doesn’t feature thesort of leftfield pop singles that have made Animal Collective so popular in the past year. But on record – especially Person Pitch – his music is experimental in the very best way. Out of the layers of noise arise frequent moments of clarity and beauty, such as “Ponytail” which sounds like some lost, late Blur single recorded underwater. Or “Comfy in Nautica”, about as sunny and uplifting as anything Brian Wilson ever committed to tape, with a pneumatic drill providing the rhythm section.
Yet live – at least tonight – all this wonderful noise is… just noise. Even Lennox’s intriguing samples are largely lost in the sludge. Perhaps it’s the material: his forthcoming fourth LP, Tomboy (due in September), sounds like it will be darker and less forgiving than its predecessor, if the new songs that make up the bulk of this showare anything to go by. But I’d like to think it’s the unfamiliarity of the compositions and the inadequacy of the sound system instead. Lennox is a hugely exciting artist, but on nights like this you have to admit to yourself that either it was a bit dull, or you just didn’t really “get” it.