Daniel Lopatin’s second release on Warp as Oneohtrix Point Never is hell-bent on defying expectations. A song like “Ezra” begins with cut-up, recognizable motifs but becomes destroyed by diversions into heart-pounding 16-bit synth chases and vocal snippets emerging from its distorted folds. “I Bite Through It” engages in pop-rock structure yet mocks it at the same time, its sharp notes arranged neatly in sets of eight, which are broken up by a hard-hitting beat and more scenic portions, its tones varying without rhyme or reason across the song’s taut three minutes and 17 seconds. Similarly, the guttural vocals and laser-beam synths exploding out of “Sticky Drama” achieve EDM-style release even as its brutal middle portion feels insanity-inducing. But the need to step away now and then only proves the album’s power. Part of Garden of Delete’s strength is its ability to temper its dislocating sense of confusion with clear reference points that help the listener find their balance. The smoky, hollowed-out beginning of “Freaky Eyes” gives way to pipe organs, sudden swells and noises that skitter around like beetles, making it feel like a horror movie soundtrack collage. “Lift’s” disembodied vocal bits and layered piano runs feel alien but are lovely nonetheless. The more pronounced vocals on “Animals” make it easily noticeable, but it would be a standout regardless, its tones disintegrating beautifully while a pitch-shifted vocal comes in and out of static in a way not entirely different from Radiohead. Oneohtrix Point Never is an acquired taste that occasionally feels like it needs Cliff’s Notes to fully grasp. But it’s undoubtedly some of the most intelligent, forward-thinking music being made today. Those willing to take the plunge will be duly rewarded.
Now that the year is officially half over, we’re checking back over the albums that have been released thus far in 2015. Maybe all of this will change in six months, but for now, here are the albums I’ve been most excited about this year. We’d love to hear some more under-the-radar albums that came out this year that haven’t been as covered by the blogosphere, so please leave a comment and suggest some more picks.
The former Fleet Foxes drummer has put out the most emotionally manipulative album of 2015, and that’s a good thing. Songs like “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” are all sweeping melodrama on the surface, horns and strings and Southwest jangle decorating Joshua Tillman’s sonorous voice, but his words destroy the superficial veneer the handsome troubadour puts out on first blush, sneaking snarky lines into a love song to his new wife (“I wanna take you in the kitchen/Lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in”). Songs like “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.” and “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” dismiss young would-be groupies with borderline arrogance (the oft-quoted “She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes/And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream”), Tillman’s use of detail flip your impression of him from douche to annoyingly charming dude who’s just telling it like it is. And as the album progresses, Tillman’s observations turn more self-effacing, and his pathos makes for some brutally candid moments—“Bored in the U.S.A.’s” white people problems are played for literal laughs, and the self-loathing present beneath the beard transcends its trappings and becomes entirely relatable. It’s also a great love album because it’s romantic but doesn’t sugarcoat shit, starting semi-sarcastically using the pet name “honeybear” and later featuring the line “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity/What I fail to see is what that’s gotta do with you and me.” There have easily been more sentimental singer/songwriter releases in 2015, but Tillman’s cynicism feels like the most honest thing I’ve heard this year.
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper has us in heaven. It’s Noah Lennox’s most accessible album thus far, yet it’s as strange and unique as anything he’s done. I first heard “Boys Latin” on edibles in Joshua Tree at his excellent show at Pappy & Harriet’s with Peaking Lights, and that rainbow vocal pastiche has been swimming through my brain ever since. The other single, “Mr Noah,” is more of a grower, but I love the way its groans into life and pulsates like a live animal. You’ve got songs like “Principe Real,” which is like this Wonderland funk track, bouncing on handclaps and cartoonish organs. A lot of the in-between songs are as beautiful as you might guess. “Crossword” is heartfelt and gorgeous, along the lines of a certain song he wrote for Animal Collective, “My Girls.” “Come to Your Senses” swirls with slithering, shaking sounds, but percolating guitars and synths carry strong melodies to take you through it. And “Tropic of Cancer” is a Beach Boys-inspired oceanic ode that crests on beautiful harp and digital whispers. Panda Bear’s work has always been inspiring, but Grim Reaper sees Lennox shedding any kind of shyness present in his previous releases. It’s a beautifully made, all-embracing piece of experimental pop music, and one of the best releases of early 2015.
In celebration of the release of the new album by Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox), Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, we’ve put together this handy guide to releases by Animal Collective, of which Panda Bear is a member, and releases by Animal Collective’ individual members.
For the uninitiated, Baltimore-born Animal Collective have been one of the most consistently challenging and rewarding bands of the 2000s. Made up of Lennox, Avey Tare (David Portner), Deakin (Josh Dibb) and Geologist (Brian Weitz), Animal Collective have released nine studio albums and many EPs, collaborations and one-offs. Meanwhile, Lennox and Portner have several releases each (both solo and, in Portner’s case, as a collaborator). Though their music has varied quite a bit from release to release, the band has drawn upon elements of folk, afropop, avant-garde music, noise and psychedelia for a sample and synth-heavy concoction that defies typical genre trappings.
Here’s a list of the band’s releases, in chronological order:
Somewhat of a solo record by Avey Tare, with Lennox on drums (first released under the name Avey Tare and Panda Bear), Spirit actually better portrays the melodicism that would come to mark later Animal Collective releases than those that immediately followed, full of fluttering acoustic guitars and sparkling synths, with the occasional feedback drones and Portner’s shriek interrupting the reverie. Also notable for being the first thing released on the band’s Animal label, now known as Paw Tracks.
The year’s coming to a close, and it’s time to look ahead. There are already several sure-to-be great albums on the horizon. You can already preorder the ones below.
Out Jan. 13
Experimental pop auteur and Animal Collective member Panda Bear aka Noah Lennox is back with his fifth solo album and first in four years. Like his last album, Tomboy, it’s co-produced by Peter Kember, and it features two songs that have already been premiered, the woozy “Mr Noah” and mind-bending “Boys Latin,” for which you can watch the mesmerizing video below. “Mr Noah” has been already released on a four-song EP of the same name, which includes three more songs; those three extra songs will also be available on the deluxe editions of the album.