If the title of Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper is meant to hint at the demise of Noah Lennox’s musical alter ego, the album content suggests the Animal Collective percussionist would retire the solo project satisfied with the sonic identity he created for it. Containing both the dense sound collages of Panda Bear’s acclaimed Person Pitch (2007) and the windswept minimalism of Tomboy (2011), the album explores new ground by incorporating Daft Punk influences and featuring prominent, break-focused drum programming—but, for the most part, isn’t too interested in taking on big challenges. Rather, Lennox distills the results of his electro-psychedelic experiments into simpler elements that pair well with (relatively) straightforward melodies and throwback hip-hop techniques.
This concept could have put Meets The Grim Reaper on an interestingly conventional course, but the additions are too subtle to complete the transition into pop or dance music. With a drum loop, pulsing bass, and a funky synth foundation, “Crosswords” gets tantalizingly close, but its steady, smooth groove fails to build into anything memorable. “Mr. Noah” also rides a visceral, urgent thump through a mire of sloppy electronica, but the sliding vocal hook doesn’t add much in the way of support.
Ultimately, the fresh set of beats Lennox affixes to his ethereal, layered melodies never quite brings them down from their celestial orbit. By the time he kicks off the album’s second half with “Tropic Of Cancer”—an airy, harp-adorned ballad lushly accordant with the environs of his current home of Portugal—he largely abandons any revolution of rhythm. Adopting aspects of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories (in which he collaborated on the track “Doin’ It Right”) proves to be a more natural fit: Rapid changes of direction keep the listener engaged, and stripped-down synths engage in their robotic bubbling best on the coolly hypnotic “Boys Latin.” Overall, however, Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper doesn’t push boundaries so much as it delineates the contours of Lennox’s comfort zone.