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Panda Bear strips back the layers in his latest record 'Buoys'

Few artists that sit comfortably under the umbrella of ‘avant-garde’ have flown as close to the mainstream sun as Noah Lennox, known under the moniker of Panda Bear.

As one third of Brooklyn group Animal Collective, Lennox created a maverick brand of amorphous art-pop across the 2000s. Heavily layered with bizarro melody, the band found fans who appreciated their abstract sound in a time dominated by rock revival. 

In 2004, Lennox traded his Brooklynite status for the relative quietude of Lisbon, Portugal. Calling from his home there today, nearly 15 years since his move, he is caught writing new Animal Collective material for what would be their 12th studio album, on a two week reprieve from touring his forthcoming sixth solo record Buoys. 

The new solo LP counts as something of a reinvention for Lennox – by Panda Bear standards, it is “stripped back”, as the intense vocal stacking effects of his previous work have been reduced to a small “collection of devices.” Longtime producer Rusty Santos and Lennox resampled vocals and employed simple pitch-bending to build what they call a “vocal bed” for a single take to fit on top, giving his voice a more lucid timbre. Santos suggested Auto-Tune to colour Lennox’s overdubbed voice.

“The Auto-Tune colours my voice in a way that I like, giving it a certain kind of thickness or definition. My voice can be kind of bulbous or round and fuzzy in a way,” Lennox explains.

“I didn’t want to employ the technique that I felt I’d been really hammering away at on the past three [records] where I would listen to a mix and my mind would wander – the impulse for me was always to add some new sounds to the thing. I really wanted to steer away from that and do something that seduced somebody’s attention rather than demand it,” Lennox explains.

In the lyric writing process, Lennox was cognisant of the fact that his new found vocal clarity brought extra vulnerability to his words. The singer, often known to write absurdities, turned surprisingly to politics – albeit in a characteristically “coded” Panda Bear fashion.

“I’m usually addressing stuff that’s more about what I call ‘human software’ – what drives those impulses. I guess I feel like I’m trying to get to the problem at an earlier stage,” Lennox muses.

“The past couple of years, I’ve figured if we could all be a bit more humble that would solve a bunch of problems immediately.”

The writing for Buoys happened quickly and simply in a two month period, as Lennox recorded demos singing over an acoustic guitar with a “typically crude drum machine.” All of the songs were written on guitar, inspired by practice for Pitchfork’s 21st anniversary concert where Animal Collective performed their 2004 record Sung Tongs in full.

“It took me a while to trick my hands into doing that again, cause I hadn’t played guitar in a bit. The tuning is exactly the same as the Sung Tongs tuning, so there is kind of a link there which I like.”

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Lennox mentioned Buoys’ sound also linked to his biggest solo success to date, 2007’s Person Pitch, with its acoustic tone. According to Setlist FM, he hasn’t played any of that material live since 2013. 

“I made it in the free version of Cubase [Digital Audio Workstation software], so I’d have to kind of get Cubase running again somewhere and find where those project files are. I could kind of take samples and do it that way,” Lennox admits.

“Part of me just kind of prefers that though – it might not be the most lucrative way to do it, but I like to just focus on the present day stuff. It does kinda make me feel like if I keep lying to everyone and aim forward, that keeps the momentum going.”

Panda Bear’s sixth studio album Buoys is out now via Domino Recordings.