Since its release in 2007, Panda Bear’s Person Pitch has caused admirers to go overboard with superlatives. Here’s one more: It’s the Pet Sounds of the 21st century. Go ahead and roll your eyes, detractors—Person Pitch’s effervescence might be in the eye of the beholder, but the album’s outsized influence is indisputable. For good or bad, the current indie-rock landscape is unimaginable without it. The new Tomboy arrives in a crowded field of records made by pop-savvy artists who have made smudged instrumentation, hypnotic tape loops, and reverb-heavy vocals as ubiquitous as Auto-Tune. As a result, Tomboy doesn’t have the thrill of discovery its predecessor had; instead, Noah Lennox is out to show he can still make this kind of album better than anyone.
Both less sunny and more accessible than Person Pitch, Tomboy is broken down into bite-sized, relatively straightforward morsels of melody buttressed by percolating polyrhythms, twinkling guitar, piano-based hooks, and Lennox’s choirboy emoting. The lyrics are harder to distinguish than ever; Tomboy’s spiritual melancholy is expressed purely in musical terms, like the buzzing “Telstar” keyboard lick that lurks in the background of the title track before sleepily emerging for a solo, or the chorus of Lennox overdubs that serenade the sorrow at the core of the resplendent “Friendship Bracelet.” Nothing deviates dramatically from Panda Bear’s signature sound; Tomboy is a refinement of the bedroom-pop aesthetic, featuring songs like the beauteous “Alsatian Darn” that rank with Lennox’s most memorable.
While his imitators continue to be fascinated by their own sound-sculptures, Lennox has re-focused on the most old-fashioned musical pursuit there is: songwriting. More than ever, Lennox is penning music that can be played on a Steinway as easily as a MacBook. Whether giving “Slow Motion” a Wu-Tang bounce or making “Last Night At The Jetty” as heartbreaking as a moonlit ’50s doo-wop ballad, Lennox has perfected the genre he helped create on Tomboy, while setting himself apart from it.