Tomboy over Person Pitch?
I found myself in this situation a few times: Person Pitch is a better album, but I’ve pushed through a tough night or ten with Tomboy and love it just a bit more.
This is a silly analogy, but if Person Pitch and Tomboy were brothers, PP would be the golden boy: sunny disposition, played on sports teams and acted in school plays, always plenty of friends. Tomboy would be the younger brother living in his sibling’s shadow: less social, a little more volatile, struggling to separate himself from his brother’s success. Now, assuming I know both of these brothers, the extension of this analogy would mean I became close with Tomboy during a tumultuous period in my life and found him to be a great source of comfort, while Person Pitch remained a relatively distant acquaintance. One brother is more successful, but the other is a better and truer friend.
Albums aren’t living and breathing, but the above makes a bit of sense to me.
The two most recent Panda Bear albums occupy opposite ends of my emotional spectrum. Person Pitch is one of my go-to barbecue/bike trail records: it inspires daydreams of sunlight filtering through treetops on deserted Southern Ontario concession roads, hard and hot runs in the countryside capped by sinking into a blow-up kiddie pool. Tomboy soundtracked what constitutes the toughest four month stretch of my life thus far, a winter spent disoriented and angry and alone. It hurts a bit to revisit “Tomboy” or “Scheherazade”, like touching a scar and recalling how you earned it. I’ve settled the emotions central to that period of growing pains, but Tomboy is a window back to a much more tumultuous time. “Last Night at the Jetty” captures the loneliness and the ache of it; “Afterburner”, the roiling rage. I’m glad to be out of the woods.
1. "Take Pills"
3. "Last Night at the Jetty"
Yesterday I started end-of-2011 coverage (unimaginatively dubbed Greatest Hits) with a first chunk of albums I liked a lot but didn’t quite love. Here’s the second bundle of 5:
Neon Indian - Era Extraña
Era Extraña drew me in with its fantastic, memorable singles and then trapped me with its unique brand of dizzy, future-shocked romanticism. First, those singles: I’d put up this album’s triptych of “Polish Girl”, “Fallout” and “Halogen (I Could Be a Star)” against any other 2011 record’s best three. I can’t say enough about them: all three explode from gooey, synth-laden verses into these titanic, starry-eyed choruses. They dwarf you as you listen. After their effects wear off, the rest of the album starts to sink in: the humid atmospherics of the “Heart:” series, the pop-glitch of “Hex Girlfriend”. Era Extraña is the sound of Alan Palomo murdering chillwave and bringing it back to life as a lovelorn cyborg.
Panda Bear - Tomboy
Roughly a week ago, Rawkblog proprietor Dave Greenwald posited the following questions: “Do you remember that Panda Bear even put out a record? Could you name a single song from it?” I think Tomboy was destined to fall through the cracks from the very beginning, devoid of the sunny glow and euphoric release that defined Person Pitch. It’s a very dark album, rich with mysticism and desolate moments; even its most melodic entry (the sublime “Last Night at the Jetty”) is underlined by longing and failing memory. Its climax and defining track is the angry, clashing maelstrom of “Afterburner”, and relief doesn’t arrive until the soothing waves of closer “Benfica”. It’s an album that forces you to confront ugly, misshapen sounds and uncomfortable ideas. Tomboy was never going to match Person Pitch; honestly, I’m glad it didn’t try.
St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Strange Mercy is another album that crept up on me over multiple listens and wormed its way into my heart. It’s a testament to the quality of these songs that they still find ways to surprise me, even after spending hours with them: the lurching “Dilettante”, the jittery art-funk of “Surgeon”, the lyrical unpleasantries of the title track. And if “lurching” and “jittery” don’t sound particularly appetizing to you, there’s always “Cruel”, Annie Clark’s turn towards the pop light that’s one of my favourite cuts from 2011. If you haven’t given the album a chance, don’t get scared away by the seasick atmosphere or the guitar crunch; let Strange Mercy find your weak point.
tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l
I like this album so much that it’s included despite possessing the most frustrating artist/album name combo of the year. w h o k i l l is a record defined by its balance between moments of ecstatic joy and uncomfortable, unrelenting darkness. The juxtaposition of sweet musical elements and startling lyrical imagery, like the flighty coo of “Policeman shot my baby as he crossed over my doorstep”, remains fresh and intriguing months after the first listen. The peaks of “Powa” and “Bizness” are still undeniable too, although my favourite song from w h o k i l l is “You Yes You”, a beacon of unfiltered optimism. Everything’s going to be OK, everything’s going to be alright, I put my back into it, hit repeat.
Washed Out - Within and Without
Within and Without represents the other path of chillwave evolution: where Alan Palomo moved into the future and embraced glitchy electronic landscapes, Ernest Greene looked to the (recent) past, to trip-hop and R&B. (I suppose Chaz Bundick traveled even further, into the realm of ’70s jazz-pop, but I digress.) Within and Without is a sweaty, humid record: synths and percussion hang heavy and low over every single track. I spent all of July and August grooving to the muted thump of “Echoes” and the glittering sheen of “Soft”, and to my surprise they still play relatively well in the frosty Canadian December. Between Era Extraña, Within and Without, and Toro y Moi’s quite-solid Underneath the Pine, 2011 offered plenty of proof that chillwave’s leading men could support the style that initially defined them with individual chunks of musical substance.
I’m going to go with Panda, because I can’t ignore the amount of time I’ve spent listening to Person Pitch and Tomboy. Young Prayer has received a fair number of spins, too. I’d recommend the latter as bedtime music for anyone - it’s a calming, soothing record.
Even if I evaluate the two based strictly on their AC output, I think I’d still choose Panda. I’ll acknowledge that Avey has a better handle on melody, but I’m a sucker for those harmonies and that honeyed tone. Of course, you’re in great hands no matter your choice.
I’ve spent a lot of time with Tomboy, and “Afterburner” is the track I return to most frequently now that a few months have passed since the album’s release. It’s a singular song in the entirety of Panda Bear’s solo discography: it’s angrier and more aggressive than anything else he’s ever output. Although they’re all gorgeous and emotionally resonant on an individual scale, Tomboy's other 10 tracks can seamlessly congeal into one gooey mass of choral moans and effects. “Afterburner” is built from similar components, but they're arranged differently to create a pulsating mass of sonics. The song's most thrilling moment actually occurs when Panda's trademark vocals drop out, and all of the song's snatches of sound and distortion are laid bare. It's always surprising to hear just how many different pieces of sound have accumulated in the first three minutes of the track.
I don’t think the significance of “Afterburner” is purely musical, either. I’m evaluating the song in the larger context of two very significant events: the release and ensuing mega-success of Merriweather Post Pavilion, and the branding of chillwave as a distinct sub-genre inspired by Panda’s very own Person Pitch. Those two events have combined to create this public perception of Animal Collective as a batch of contemporary hippies, a few steps away from New Age blather and tie-dye pandemonium. I don’t think any band would be content with that description, and don’t forget: this is the band that made Here Comes the Indian! Even though it’s a Panda Bear solo release, I think “Afterburner” serves as something of a guidepost, suggesting that people shouldn’t expect Merriweather Post Pavilion 2: Cool, Man to be AC’s next release. The band is going to come back with a little bite.
(This line of thinking is confirmed by the band’s recent live shows, where Panda is placed firmly back behind his drum kit and the new material has a good deal of punch to it. I’m excited!)
I’ve already written about my hand-picked favourite songs and favourite albums. This is the final piece in my “Best of 1H 2011” coverage, where I take a look at my Last.fm stats from the first half of this year and attempt to find a way to accurately gauge my “favourite” albums. Read on if you like variance and standard deviation…
The easiest way to quantify the albums I’ve listened to the most using is to count up the number of total plays. These are the results (I’m not going to put the album name to save space):
Fleet Foxes - 483 plays
Destroyer - 404
Panda Bear - 366
Toro y Moi - 287
Beyoncé - 255
Radiohead - 243
tUnE-yArDs - 236
My Morning Jacket - 199
Bon Iver - 188
James Blake - 159
Cut Copy - 131
The Strokes - 100
John Maus - 97
The Antlers - 93
Deerhoof - 92
Yuck - 91
Sloan - 82
Ducktails - 80
Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx/Kurt Vile - 77
The main issue I have with using the number of plays is that it fails to take into account the length of the songs. If I had spent more time listening to Iceage’s new record, I could potentially have many plays of the shorter songs, and the results presented would not be an accurate reflection of the time spent with the album.
The method I’ve decided to use involves two steps:
1) Calculating the plays per track on each album (number of plays divided by number of tracks),
2) Multiplying the plays per track by the album length to obtain the total time spent listening to the album.
Once this minor calculation is completed, the following results are obtained:
Destroyer - 37.41 hours
Fleet Foxes - 33.41
Panda Bear - 27.67
Radiohead - 18.93
Beyoncé - 17.00
Toro y Moi - 16.96
tUnE-yArDs - 16.60
My Morning Jacket - 14.93
Bon Iver - 12.31
Cut Copy - 11.91
James Blake - 9.18
The Antlers - 6.37
Yuck - 6.24
Kurt Vile - 5.88
The Strokes - 5.68
John Maus - 4.63
Ducktails - 4.23
Deerhoof - 4.18
Sloan - 3.86
Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx - 3.64
A number of conclusions can be drawn from the above results. Before getting into serious discussion, I should note the few potential sources of error this method possesses. Albums with extremely long tracks benefit from this method of calculation, because their album length is relatively longer, even if the lengthy tracks are rarely listened to. Two specific examples I can think of are “Sun God”, from Cut Copy’s Zonoscope (15 minutes!) and “Porch Projector”, from the Ducktails record (10 minutes!). I could have performed a more rigorous analysis by checking the actual plays of each song, finding the time spent listening to each song and then summing the lengths from each album track, but I am in school and don’t have 4 hours to waste doing calculations like that.
Now, for some musical discussion points. The results match up fairly closely with my hand-picked “very good” and “excellent” albums, which is nice to see. If I form something called the “10-Hour Club”, which includes the albums with 10+ hours listening time, these are the members: Destroyer, Fleet Foxes, Panda Bear, Radiohead, Beyoncé, Toro y Moi, tUnE-yArDs, MMJ, Bon Iver, and Cut Copy. All of my “excellent” albums made it to the 10-Hour Club, and the “very good” ones that missed it were released fairly recently. The only pretenders in the 10-Hour Club are Toro y Moi and Cut Copy, who both released albums with very strong singles that skewed the results.
Another interesting thing I noticed was the large discrepancy between the top trio of Destroyer, Fleet Foxes and Panda Bear, and the closest albums. The different between 3rd (Panda Bear) and 4th (Radiohead) is nearly 9 hours of listening time. How large is that difference in a relative sense? If the listening times are analyzed as a percentage of the #1 album’s listening time, the gap can be more accurately quantified. The top 3 are relatively close together: Fleet Foxes and Panda Bear were listened to 89% and 74% of Destroyer’s listening time. However, once Radiohead and the albums below are reached, that huge drop-off is glimpsed: Radiohead was only listened to 51% as much as Destroyer. Nearing the bottom, the last album on the list was only listened to 10% as much as the top album.
Some final stat-geeky stats:
Average - 13.05 hours
Standard deviation - 9.79 hours
Thanks for reading, everyone! Have a good night! I’ll throw up another post with links to all of the 1H 2011 pieces.
Bonjour, everyone. My 1H 2011 coverage continues with this list of my favourite songs. I’m operating under the following self-made constraints:
1) One song per artist. (There were instances where I could’ve included 4-5 songs from an album.)
2) This list is capped at 30. It could’ve gone longer, but who wants to hear about “my 154 favourite songs”? (I’ll answer that for you: no one.)
Also, some of these songs may have appeared earlier than 2010, but unless I’ve made a little mistake they all received formal release on an album, EP or single in 2011. (Coming later this week: a look at my “indie song of the summer” (inspired by Stereogum’s recent poll) and at Pure X’s debut album.)
Alright, let’s do it! In alphabetical order:
Adele, “Rolling in the Deep” (21)
The Antlers, “Corsicana” (Burst Apart)
Beyoncé, “Countdown” (4)
Bill Callahan, “Riding for the Feeling” (Apocalypse)
Bon Iver, “Holocene” (Bon Iver, Bon Iver)
Cass McCombs, “County Line” (WIT’S END)
Cut Copy, “Need You Now” (Zonoscope)
Destroyer, “Kaputt” (Kaputt)
Fleet Foxes, “Lorelai” (Helplessness Blues)
Fucked Up, “A Little Death” (David Comes to Life)
Gang Gang Dance, “Glass Jar” (Eye Contact)
Jamie Woon, “Night Air” (Mirrorwriting)
Jamie xx, “Far Nearer” (Far Nearer - Single)
John Maus, “Believer” (We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves)
Junior Boys, “Banana Ripple” (It’s All True)
Katy B, “Movement” (On a Mission)
Lady Gaga, “The Edge of Glory” (Born This Way)
My Morning Jacket, “The Day is Coming” (Circuital)
Panda Bear, “Last Night at the Jetty” (Tomboy)
Radiohead, “Separator” (The King of Limbs)
Sloan, “Unkind” (The Double Cross)
The Strokes, “Gratisfaction” (Angles)
Todd Terje, “Ragysh” (Ragysh - EP)
Toro y Moi, “Still Sound” (Underneath the Pine)
tUnE-yArDs, “You Yes You” (w h o k i l l)
TV on the Radio, “Caffeinated Consciousness” (Nine Types of Light)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Ffunny Ffrends” (Unknown Mortal Orchestra)
The Weeknd, “What You Need” (House of Balloons)
Wild Beasts, “Reach a Bit Further” (Smother)
WU LYF, “Heavy Pop” (Go Tell Fire to the Mountain)
My two favourite albums of the year so far are possibly the worst to sing along two, albeit for completely different reasons. Destroyer’s languid Kaputt is hampered by both half-speaking vocal turns from D. Bejar and lyrics that might take a little explaining if sung out loud around friends or family (“harmless little Negress” comes to mind). On the other hand, Panda Bear’s Tomboy has nearly indecipherable lyrics on almost every track. I am reduced to baying like a seal and attempting to harmonize (which has potential for disaster as well).
Does anyone else share my sing-a-long-grief?
Tomboy's first 7 (and might I add, still brilliant) tracks have been released through the singles series that preceded the album, so instead of posting a full album review (I feel like I am already too close to the aforementioned 7 tracks to evaluate them objectively), I'm going to examine the 4 that are being released officially for the first time. Read more!
The most overtly hymnal of Tomboy's 11 songs, Scheherazade is drenched in reverb and echoing piano. It sounds like a solemn confessional. Subtle contributions to the mood of the song are made by the twinkling, chime-like background sounds. A deeper look into the song’s few lyrics hints at a struggle with some unnamed feeling or foe and the tuggings of lust. The song does a great job at evoking deep, powerful emotions.
The first thing I thought of while listening to this one was the level in Super Mario 64 (holla, N64 owners) where there’s a deserted ship floating on a misty lake, and you’ve got to dive into the lake and avoid a massive eel and perform the usual coin collection and star grabbing. Indeed, the song shimmers and skids along and sounds as if you might be hearing it an inch underwater. The downward vocal runs towards the end are reminiscent of I Think I Can, the final song on AC’s 2009 Fall Be Kind EP. This is some of Panda’s finest vocal work on the album; however, at times the song feels overlong (a rare feeling on this album).
Tomboy doesn’t exactly have any “bangers”, but Afterburner is probably the closest thing. The rhythm tracks intertwine and churn like a stormy day on the ocean, and provide a challenging base for Panda’s vocals. The moment when the vocal harmonies begin is the first glimpse of this song’s magic, and the second is when the strongest beat in the mix emerges out of the ether at around 2:40. Unlike the previous track, there isn’t a second here that feels wasted. Something about this song has a near-militaristic feel to it, like some strange psychedelic battle march.
Benfica is the calm after the storm. Afterburner's frenzied rhythms ease and give way to astonishing choral vocals and a underbelly of soccer cheers and spiralling synths. This is the mug of hot chocolate, the mother tucking you into your bed, whatever other soothing moment you can think of, especially when compared to the occasional roughness of the songs before it. Benfica makes me want to sleep, and strangely enough, that’s meant as a compliment: Panda’s vocals drip honey and send us off softly into the night.
Tomboy is a much more difficult album to enjoy than Person Pitch for the casual fan of AC or for the bro-types out there who may have jumped on PP's bandwagon, or that of Merriweather Post Pavilion. These songs are raw, bare constructions. Where previously a warm and friendly sample may have existed, there is a song’s skeleton laying exposed for everyone to hear. Perhaps the most prominent example can be found in the chorus of Last Night at the Jetty, where the flat-out gorgeous vocal melody is backed by something like the beating heart of a Panda Bear song: soaring moans, ghostly wails, shifting and cracking pieces coming apart and back together again.
It’s not as if Panda has lost some soft touch or beating heart. Album cuts like Surfer’s Hymn and You Can Count on Me, as well as lesser tracks like this year’s Atiba Song, disprove that theory. But Tomboy is going to take some effort and patience on your part, and will reward many listeners by revealing treasures long after its honeymoon period.
P.S. Did Slow Motion REALLY need the weirdo, echoing “POWWWWW” at the beginning? I’ve heard it a dozen times and I still jump every time.
What do you think?