Baltimore experimental indie artist Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) has put out some phenomenal albums throughout his career – but this is not one of those phenomenal albums. The only phenomenon here is the fact an artist as talented and creative as Noah could sink to such an artistic low as this.
Deciding to depart from the death-themed psychedelia of his last album, Noah delivers a stripped-back record using water as the running theme. There are track titles such as ‘Dolphins’ and lyrical references to ‘tidings’, ‘ripples’ and ‘the coast’. Basically, Panda Bear has gone seapunk.
Sadly, the instrumentation doesn’t really adhere to this bubbly water theme - in fact, the production is about dry as the Atacama desert. The squelchy synthesizers have been traded in for stiff guitars made up of feebly-strummed basic chords, accompanied by some sparse 808s. A few water drip sound effects as on ‘Dolphin’ and ‘Crescendo’ are all we get in terms of water-themed production, and that’s not enough to quench my thirst. I expect whale song and boat horns and sonar bleeps – not just a few drip sounds (of all the water-themed sounds to choose, they’re probably the most irritating too – in fact, the drips on ‘Dolphin’ are akin to Chinese water torture).
As for Noah’s vocals, they’re no longer drenched in reverb. Instead, he’s decided to soak them in auto-tune. He’s not the first indie singer to embrace auto-tune - Sufjan Stevens, Wayne Coyne and Julian Casablancas have all dabbled in it. I’m not sure why indie singers are now wanting to sound like T-Pain. I just hope this trend is short-lived, because if indie isn’t a safe-haven from auto-tune, then nowhere is. It also doesn’t help that Noah’s voice sounds shakier with pitch correction. If anything, auto-tune has miraculously detuned his voice, and it’s painful to listen to.
To top all this off, the songwriting on Buoys is atrocious. There’s absolutely no direction to these tracks – no hooks, no build ups, no change ups. Every track drifts nowhere, which I could just about tolerate were each track different to the next, but no they all sound pretty much identical. ‘Inner Monologue’ is the only track that breaks the monotony with some beautiful melancholy guitars and effects-slathered Beatles-esque vocals, even if the sound effects of the woman sobbing over the top are a little unnecessary.
So, all in all, this is not my favourite Panda Bear album. Buoys has the buoyancy of an anchor – musically, he’s hit rock bottom. Fortunately, Noah is always changing up his sound, so his next record is certain to be completely different (after all, it can’t possibly be worse than this).