Since the dawn of the MP3 era, our collective notions about what makes pop music pop music have been scrambled, splintered, scattered and all of the other things that they do to hash browns at a Waffle House.
Lately, pop music just feels inside out. Our biggest superstars are hatching from alien pods, masquerading as avant-weirdos, while our genuine avant-weirdos are making foreign sounds feel more familiar.
Baltimore native Noah Lennox has had plenty to do with the latter. He performs under the name Panda Bear in the experimental indie-pop group Animal Collective. His 2007 solo disc “Person Pitch” sounded like a choir of Brian Wilson clones re-imagining the 21st-century drum circle — colorful and disorienting and often quite beautiful.
His lush, rolling vocals felt even more urgent on Animal Collective’s 2009 home-run “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” an album that influenced scores of bands to venture out into similar sonic hazes.
Now, with Lennox surrounded by imitators, the trancelike hymns that fill his new Panda Bear album “Tomboy” don’t sound as arresting as they once did. They feel slippery. Moments into the album, it’s hard to tell whether Lennox is wailing “Know you can count on me” or “No, you can’t count on me.” And are those actual field recordings of crashing waves on “Surfer’s Hymn” or just washes of white noise made to sound like crashing waves?
If you spend your time with “Tomboy” playing games of this or that, you might be missing the point. These are cyclical, hypnotic songs that are meant to wash over you. And headphones are a must. Tucked beneath the album’s big, washy guitars and choirboy keening are tiny vocal samples and vibrant little patches of sound. It can feel like Public Enemy’s nightmarish hyper-sampling recast in a daydream.
And while “Tomboy” won’t knock the wind out of you like “Fear of a Black Planet,” it is a pleasant little album to laze around in. And it comes with a smart lesson: As our definition of pop music expands, so does our comfort zone.
“You Can Count on Me,” “Surfer’s Hymn”