Published Feb 05, 2019Animal Collective have rarely looked back while making music, together or separately, Since the band began their mainstream-ish ascent in the mid-'00s, each of their members has been almost aggressively forward-thinking, rarely repeating themselves while spurring micro-genres and exhaustive think pieces about their work along the way.
But in 2017, two members — Dave Portner (aka Avey Tare) and Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) — decided to revisit their past with the first of a few shows in support of their landmark 2004 album, Sung Tongs. The album inspired a whole generation of musicians to rethink the acoustic guitar, and it did the same for one of its creators nearly a decade-and-a-half later.
Inspired at least in part by early practice sessions leading up to their 2017/2018 Sung Tongs performances, Buoys — Panda Bear's first album in four years — finds the always identifiable AnCo member moving the lush, sample-based soundscapes of previous albums aside in favour of a stripped-back, bare-bones approach that will no doubt delight longtime fans and puzzle fairweather ones.
Co-produced by Sung Tongs' Rusty Santos, and clocking in just north of 30 minutes, Buoys sounds like a lo-fi transmission sent from the past that's finally caught up to current times, collecting static and other bits of infra- and ultrasound ephemera along the way.
For some, it may not be as immersive as previous listening experiences on first listen, with the majority of the record being made up of subtle slapback acoustic guitar delays, spacious drum machine beats, and occasional hints of wall-rattling sub-bass (particularly on album opener "Dolphin"), but it unfolds the more you get used to Lennox's new sonic framework here.
When talking with Exclaim! about the album's title, Lennox described it as "this sort of thing on the surface that points to something secret, or this sort of treasure that's hidden within." And surely, when someone hears the lines "One more tip with a feathered cap / One more trip to the habitat / One more whip of a cheeky slap / One more dip in the natural sap / That's that" on album standout "I Know I Don't Know," chances are you won't know what he's really singing about. But where previous Animal Collective and Panda Bear albums felt like engrossing page-turners, Buoys is like a mottled, 140-page paperback you can pick up at any time and get something out of, regardless of mental state or surroundings.
Buoys requires repeat listens to appreciate fully, but those willing to dive deep enough will surely be rewarded. (Domino)