Panda Bear - Person Pitch

Growing up, I tricked myself into thinking I was an idealist. I don’t think this was especially uncommon for people my age. When you’re a teenager, you think you’re ready for adulthood, because the promises that adulthood holds — doing what you want for a living, having your own place, living the dream, whatever that dream might be — seem so great that you can’t imagine being anything but 100 percent happy. The reality of adult life is not really that. There’s happiness and freedom, sure, but there’s always the next thing to strive for.

When Panda Bear, aka Noah Lennox’s Person Pitch first came out in 2007, I was an adult, but I still felt like a kid. Everyone around me really loved this album. They treated it like breathing, or like reading a book that gave them new insight into themselves. For a little while there, it felt like a religion. Most of these people were just a couple years older than me, but their embrace of an album that featured, among other things: treading water as percussion, vocals that sound like they were recorded for a Christmas record, an owl hooting and lots of bells and shakers, pointed to an understanding I just didn’t have yet. It took me awhile to get it. I always liked it, but seeing what other people saw in it was just beyond my grasp. The fact that rational people were able to give themselves over to it so completely was enviable.

When I got it, though, I really got it. I remember bugging out over the liner notes, which basically map out a specific strain of listening with no context other than Lennox really liked this stuff and it informed the music he made: Wolfgang Voigt, Madlib, Jay Dee, Black Dice, Beach Boys, Aphex Twin, Nina Simone, Enya, Robert Hood, Daft Punk … I’m just scanning the liner notes and grabbing names at random here. It’s pretty normal for every artist to namecheck Jay Dee now, but in 2007 it was a revelation. It was a dedication from Panda Bear to his influences, but it also informed how to listen to his music. Once I discovered the Jay Dee connection, I stopped looking at Person Pitch as a straightforward psychedelic record, and started treating it as a blunted, album-length hymn to growing up and holding on.

Right around this same time, a close friend of mine worked in a record store and managed to snag a cardboard blow-up of the Person Pitch album cover, which features a crew of kids in a small pool, surrounded by a lion, a seal, a gorilla, a panda (of course), a pigeon on a stick, a fox, a cat, a koala and an assortment of other incongruous wild animals. This thing sat on the wall above his TV for over five years. I think it’s still there. On one particularly hot day, he had a cable guy come in to fix his cable, the guy took one look at the poster, and asked, completely straight faced, “Is that a real picture?” Even an absurd album cover feels real in Panda Bear’s world.

Person Pitch and its follow up Tomboy are the most talked about Panda Bear records, and they’re the ones that catapulted him into a world where it made sense for him to sing on a Daft Punk album, a Zomby album, a Pantha du Prince album and a Ducktails 12-inch — bringing his ray-of-light vocals to projects that needed that extra touch of angelic clarity — but there are other Panda Bear albums too. I think, to have context for Person Pitch, it’s worth spending some time with the emotionally difficult Young Prayer, which I won’t get into too much here, but is worlds away from the Panda Bear we’re familiar with.

Like Animal Collective’s Campfire Songs, which I wrote about last week, Young Prayer is mostly emotive, not lyric focused. It was intended as a gift to his father who was sick and passed away before being able to hear the finished version. In an interview in Wire with Simon Reynolds, Lennox said: “With Young Prayer, I wanted to tell him that he had taught me really well. I wanted to be like, ’It’s been really good hanging out and learning from you, you’ve been a really good man and set a good example.” The fact that this quote exists in plain site on the Young Prayer Wikipedia page is rough. It’s a devastating quote because of its absolute, unfiltered clarity, which is something Lennox would carry into Person Pitch and beyond.

When you lose a parent, or any loved one really, blurry emotions don’t seem so blurry anymore. Decisions you used to have a hard time making get a whole lot easier. It doesn’t make you a better person, exactly, it just makes you a more defined person. It allows for more honesty. More clarity of vision, whatever that vision might be. Life becomes much bigger than it was, but your focus narrows too. Without Young Prayer, Person Pitch wouldn’t exist as it is, and those Animal Collective albums that so gracefully grappled with growing older: Feels, Strawberry Jam, Merriweather Post Pavilion, wouldn’t be what they are.

Person Pitch is the sound of a guy that’s figured it out. Don’t bother defining “it,” because it’s not that easy. On “Bros” Lennox sings, “I’m not trying to forget you, I just like to be alone, come and give me the space I need,” and then later, “Who are you to tell me how, when you’ve problems of your own, I do love you, and I want to hold on to you for always.”

There’s an important message of acceptance here. I don’t mean that in a hippie-dippy We Are All One On This Beautiful Earth way, but more in a way that acknowledges that life might seem short, but it’s also really fucking long. Long enough that we all make terrible mistakes and hurt people for no reason, or for what seems like good reason. When you’re young, everything unforgivable is forever unforgivable, but part of growing up is learning how to let go and love people under difficult circumstances. It’s a sappy, idealist way to think, but only because it’s so hard to embrace. Being good is hard, writing songs that make being good and honest at all costs desirable and important is even harder.

Comments (13)
  1. this was THE LP i listened to religiously through college… can still go back weekly to the whole thing, always a nostalgic listen

    good girl/carrots was where it all clicked for me, and cemented my ridiculous love for all things Panda

  2. This is one of my personal top ten albums. I’m positive it’s better than any other album connected with Animal Collective, and better than everything else put out in the first decade of the 2000′s, save maybe five albums.

    This thing is a behemoth.

    • There’s a big difference between this and the AC albums, though. You can absolutely tell that this is the product of a single artist with a clear artistic vision. The AC albums feel much more contentious, with various forces fighting each other and then syncing in intentional or unexpected ways. For that reason they sound inherently flawed, but in a good way. Person Pitch is awesome but so are a fair number of AC albums.

    • that is the most hyperbolic thing anyone has ever said in the history of everything

  3. It’s weird. My disdain – disappointment – hatred of MPP rendered me unable to listen to anything AC related for at least 2 years. This was the first time i had ever fallen out of love with a band HARD. Friday- I had a panic attack and was grappling to find some of my music I could jam and not get freaked out. For some reason Monday- I decided to listen to Strawberry Jam. Up until that morning jamming Fireworks there wasn’t anything I could decided on that would clear my head and allow me to escape. It feels good to once again remember how it felt in highschool to be so stoked about that band and the things that they were doing. For a while I tried to ignore MPP and go on listening to the AC records that I loved – but it didn’t work- it didn’t feel the same. Now I think I can do that. Winter’s Love gave me chills for the first time in a long time. This album[Person Pitch] is great. It used to be my favorite thing to draw to.

    PS. does Comfy in Nautica sound like hippy jock jamz to anyone else?

  4. also- PLZ do one of the about The Power Out by Electrelane

  5. I received this album in the spring of ’10 from Amazon after waiting to hear it in its entirety for a little over a year. I’d heard “Bros.” and I thought it was pleasant. I liked “Comfy in Nautica” a lot. My roommates and I were taking off to Tennessee for a week long camping excursion. We had a pre-departure party and played the album on my friend’s X-box while we sat on the porch in dreary Western Maryland swilling beer. In just 24 hours, these songs knotted themselves somewhere in my cerebral cortex. The next morning, we left. I’d only heard the album through 3 times–and I’d forgotten to grab it for the drive down. It was the first time I’d suffered depression as a result of being separated from an album.

  6. Great album, always. “Bros” is my go-to beautiful summer day, windows down, high volume car jam. Can’t help but get in a good mood in those conditions.

    Possibly related anecdote:
    I ordered the vinyl of this record on Amazon a few years back. I found out when I opened the package (well I supposed I actually found out when I saw the package) that I had accidentally ordered the CD version. I gave it to my older brother because I have no use for CD’s. He later told me he listened to it, I asked him what he thought of it, he laughed and said it was funny. I believe this perfectly represents my family’s attitude toward the music I listen to.

  7. I like this album just fine but y’all need a more powerful way-back machine. ‘Twas the year our lord double-aught seven, and nary an iPhone had flashes in their camera…

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