f you do A : B readings on ohrwurms—earworms—and speeches on mantra use in transcendental meditation, they’re ridiculously similar. Ha ha. Studies on earworms suggest that they plague people who already have light neuroses and are most effective when wadded up into impossibly dense matter like “WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?” According to Professor James Kellaris at the University of Cincinnati, “One of the key elements of an earworm is repetition.” And being able to focus on a mantra to the point that it swallows your mind is, some say, the highest level of peace. I am not advocating the use of “Who Let the Dogs Out?” in transcendental meditation though I am not your guardian and you can do what you want. But let’s imagine you take an earworm, abstract the instant gratification of the hook, stretch out that sense of repetitive, all-consuming bliss, and lessen the strain of your insatiable desire to just throw your fucking computer out the window and scream who let the dogs out? until you catch fire. What you’re left with is gossamer, a river, like a drug you smell even the in absence of it. This is roughly how I feel about Person Pitch. I don’t even know if I like it, but I can’t stop playing it (could I hate it for the nutty power it wields? Distinctly possible.); when I’m walking around without it, it echoes in my head.
It’s easily the gentlest, brightest record to be associated with the Animal Collective. While AC tends to find high points in oversaturated emotions, the lithe chants and loops adorning Person Pitch are practically transparent. Panda’s voice sounds like the signal is all reverb; it’s like a photographic negative. In AC, he usually drums out huge, syncopated patterns with a snare and a floor tom; here, breaks are trebly and simple. The pace of the album is rolling, relaxed, and inattentive—his songs are schoolboy rounds, psych-pop ragas layered in the ambient chatter of a park in summer. Even the dancier numbers—the dippy shimmer of “Bros” and “Good Girl/Carrots” reminds me of the Stone Roses or Happy Mondays in an odd way—don’t bait with a climax in structure so much as find their tender spots early on, fall on their asses, and revel in them.
At first, the decentralized feel of it is a liability—it’s easy to write off Person Pitch, which partially serves to collect singles Panda has issued over the past year, as another meandering set of okay to pretty good ideas (like Panda’s work with Scott Mou in the group Jane). But if you accept the metaphor of the melodic hook, try to imagine something gummier, broader, less perceptible: Person Pitch can’t be boiled down to one death-nullifying groan of “Who let the dogs out?”; the melodies are parsed and spread like butter, the songs linger as broad impressions. Person Pitch would make crappy ringtones.
One of the greatest things about Panda’s style, and everything the AC has been involved with, is that he’s not content to turn an appreciation of his influences into a brainless period piece or theme-park reenactment. Yes, there are swiped Beach Boys harmonies scattered liberally all over Person Pitch. Veritably everywhere. Roll in their willful prettiness. But Panda always places them against something—a digital hiss, a filter, a drum loop—to jar your mind into the modern era.
In our interview with him last week, Panda said his new home of Lisbon, Portugal, has “a mellow atmosphere—nobody really wants to rush around. It’s the kind of place where if you make an appointment to meet somebody at one o’clock, you’re kind of making an agreement to meet at 1:30 or 2 o’clock, you know what I’m saying? I think the music really has that sort of feeling to it for me too.” It always depresses me to hear the flak AC take for being “hippyish.” Noah Lennox (his Christian, married name) is more thoughtful and articulate than plenty of artists, and there’s a remarkably high corollary between what he’s tried to achieve with Person Pitch and the effect the album has. It’s a summer joint. A lolling, gorgeous joint. Sometimes his playpen rules are cloying (“Comfy In Nautica”’s repetition of “Try to remember always to have a good time”), but more and more, Panda and Animal Collective are considered about their place in the world and even a little guarded about the mollifying, pre-adolescent state they try to convey—“Ponytail” closes the album with a prayer: “When my soul starts growing, I get so hungry…and I wish it never would, never would, never would.”