Panda Bear Plots His Seduction

The Animal Collective wunderkind tries something new on his sixth solo album, Buoys.

Panda Bear. Photo by Fernanda Pereira

When asked to describe the sound of his latest record, Noah Lennox doesn’t speak of genres or emotions. Instead, he rattles off a laundry list of hyper-specific influences. There’s the Sade song “By Your Side,” and “El Farante” by Puerto Rican reggaeton artist Ozuna, both of which were apparently in Lennox’s brain when he started working on Buoys last year. He also mentions Latin trap artist Bad Bunny and the early-’90s English rock band The La’s as other noteworthy touchstones.

“Oh, and ‘Power Glide’ by Rae Sremmurd,” Lennox adds. “I feel like somewhere between all of those things is the sound of this record.”

Represented in this assembly of eclectic tastes is the backbone of Buoys — a notably spare record from the typically sample-happy Panda Bear. Best known as one-fourth of the avant-garde noise outfit Animal Collective, the 40-year-old Lennox has reached the point in his career where he’s asked to look backward as often as he’s tasked with prognosticating the future.

In 2018, Lennox teamed with bandmate Avey Tare (aka Dave Portner) for a fall tour to commemorate the landmark 2004 album, Sung Tongs, on which they were the only two Animal Collective members to play. This January, numerous outlets paid tribute to 10th birthday of Animal Collective’s magnum opus, 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion

What Lennox remembers most about that album isn’t the music but the time the band spent recording it and their subsequent live performances.

“With Merriweather, the experience of making it and the memories of that time have always defined the thing for me, maybe more so than the music itself,” he says. “My perception of that one is more consistent, I guess, because it feels less colored by the music.”

In the case of Buoys — which reunites Lennox with his Person Pitch producer, Rusty Santos — the low end is a major focus this time around. As for the record’s notable sparseness, Lennox explains that he set himself the task of not indulging the impulse to keeping adding to a track anytime a section seemed to lose his focus.

“I knew I really didn’t want to use that approach,” he says. “I wanted to seduce attention rather than demand it. We found that, anytime we tried to pack the arrangements full of stuff, the moments where those subs really hit just wouldn’t really work. There were certain moments where it felt like the sub would hit and then the rest of the arrangement would just sit on it like a pillow.”

Though Santos and Lennox hadn’t officially worked together since the latter’s 2007 experimental pop masterpiece, Person Pitch, they did not reunite for Buoys as strangers.

Rather, Lennox followed closely as Santos worked with artists like Black Dice’s Eric Copeland and DJ Rashad. When Santos found himself in Lisbon last October — where Lennox has lived since 2005 — the opportunity to collaborate was too great to ignore.

“I hadn’t seen him in person for maybe seven or eight years,” Lennox recalls. “Having heard the stuff he was working on and where his head was at with music, I was curious to see how the zone he was in would color the music. I wanted to see what the results would be if I used him as a filter.”

While Person Pitch remains Panda Bear’s most universally adored record, Lennox says his motivations for working with Santos again had nothing to do with rekindling that album’s kaleidoscopic surf-haze aesthetic.

On the contrary, he views Buoys as the first lines in a new chapter of his career.

“I often feel like the work reflects what’s going on for me personally,” he says, “Perhaps I feel like I’ve entered into a new phase.”

He cites boredom and intuition as two key components that drive his choices when it comes to making music. While Lennox may be dealing with milestones and retrospectives focused on past achievements for the rest of his days, he seems more engaged by the promise of the unknown.

This is exemplified by the fact that while Buoys is arguably best appreciated on a stereo system with ample subwoofers, Lennox has no desire to tell listeners how they ought to enjoy his record. Informed that early streams of his album came with a note from his label encouraging people to play Buoys on the “highest-quality audio system” at their disposal, he notes he has no issue with the suggestion. But he hopes no one confuses it with an outright demand.

“I do feel like it’s just a different experience when you listen to it with a system that can represent that really low stuff,” Lennox says. “That said, every space is slightly different. It’s not like people listen to music in some perfectly tuned room. You can’t fully control the experience, but I dig that.”

Panda Bear, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 8:30 p.m., at Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness Ave. $25; 415-673-5716 or theregencyballroom.com

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