The artwork for ‘Person Pitch’ is immediately eye-catching. A collage of images all cobbled together: a lama, tiger, sea lion, panda and assortment of other exotic animals are seen sharing a hot tub with a group of children. The resulting scene seems both fantastical and plausible at the same time — it is a nostalgic look back at childhood where it was easy to imagine a gorilla sitting alongside you in a pool. In many ways it is the perfect cover to the music that lies within.
Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear, along with the other members of Animal Collective, are some of the few artists that have the ability to capture the essence of childhood. Their music evokes a free flowing and care-free spirit, that is often joyous, sometimes bewildering but always captivating.
It was perhaps on ‘Person Pitch’, his third solo album, that Noah Lennox perfected this talent. The 2007 release marked a distinct stylistic change from both his solo work and from his records as a founding member of Animal Collective. ‘Person Pitch’ saw Panda Bear delve into new territory, moving away from the acoustic freak folk of early Animal Collective records and towards a more sample based sound.
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This transition was partly due to the fact that the only equipment Noah Lennox had with him at his Lisbon recording studio was a pair of Boss SP-303 samplers. Although this would seem limiting it is an interesting phenomenon that, when faced with fewer possibilities, musicians often produce some of their best work. Rather than causing a hinderance, the limitations posed by the technology or lack of instruments at their disposal seems to focus their creative energies. This was seen most notably with J Dilla, who produced the majority of the album ‘Donuts’ from his hospital bed, and can also be seen in Panda Bear’s work on ‘Person Pitch’.
In fact, there are a few similarities between both of these classic albums. Both artists used an SP-303 and both were built from samples, giving old songs a new lease of life. In a 2007 interview with Pitchfork Noah said that that “I feel like almost any of the songs off there [Donuts] I could say is my favorite.” and he even cites J Dilla as an influence on the album sleeve. But whilst J Dilla focused on classic soul hits to make his grooves, Noah Lennox sampled a wide range of songs, that few would place together, to create a new and wondrous sound.
Noah Lennox’s use of samples is an impressive feat. On ‘Search for Delicious’ Enya’s voice is slowed to a crawl and drowned under layers of reverb giving the whole track a dreamlike quality. ‘Comfy in Nautica’ takes a sample of the Hans Zimmer Score for Thin Red Line and picking out a snippet of choral chants and handclaps. ‘Good Girl/ Carrots’ combines the unlikely quartet of Calcutta radio, Kraftwerk, Lee “Scratch Perry” and Kylie Minogue, whilst ‘I’m Not’ perhaps has the most unusual choice of sample as it loops a gothic chant from the 1300s; coaxing their sound into the 21st Century.
But no matter where the original song has come from Noah Lennox has the uncanny ability of making it sound his own. Despite being based completely off looping tracks and recorded vocals the album has a completely organic sound — as if it were recorded live. As ever with a Panda Bear record it is Noah’s voice that carries the project, tying all the loose ends together with his winsome vocals and endearing lyrics.
The location of the studio was just as important as the equipment when it came to creating ‘Person Pitch’. The sun soaked sounds of Lisbon seep into every part of the album with samples of skateboarders, sports cars and waves crashing against the shore all appearing. There is an overall hazy, laid-back feel to the record which Noah Lennox attributes to the sunny weather and easy going atmosphere of the Portuguese city.
It is a warm and magical record that revealed a new side to Panda Bear’s creative talents. It was the album that cemented his role as the de facto leader of Animal Collective and brought new fans to their experimental interpretation of pop music. Overall it demonstrated Noah Lennox’s ability to create a masterpiece on his own, with merely a pair of samplers and a microphone.