Person Pitch

24 Jan

Person Pitch

In my several years of music geekery, there was always one thing I’ve never understood: experimental music. How can any composition be considered an experiment? What outcome of such an experiment can’t be predicted? If it’s the sound produced, then isn’t the experiment through as soon as the composer hears it? Is it the effect that the sound will have on a listener? An audience? How could one possibly anticipate such a thing? If that’s the case, isn’t all music experimental?

Perhaps I’ve never understood “experimental music” because the term gets thrown around so often. To me, it’s always seemed a lazy description for music that’s perceived as too weird or inaccessible for its time. The Arcade Fire used to often be called “experimental.” Why? Was it because they used the sound of a steaming kettle in one of their songs? And when people call The Flaming Lips experimental, is it because of the all of the odd sounds found in many of their songs? Is that what makes music experimental? Sound effects? Do you know what happens when you add a bunch of weird sound effects to your song? It becomes a song with a bunch of weird sound effects in it, you groundbreaking scientist.

My point is, lots of weird artists get called “experimental” these days. Of these, Panda Bear is perhaps the experimental-est of all. Panda Bear (also known by his less adorable name, Noah Lennox) is a member of the so-called experimental outfit, Animal Collective (who I highly recommend). Coming from Baltimore, Maryland, they started making aggressively strange music around ten years ago, and, ironically enough (or perhaps not), have since formed a very distinguished career in Hipsterland.

In 2007, Panda Bear released his third solo album titled Person Pitch. It certainly contains all the hallmarks of experimentalism. It has an abundance of those weird sound effects. Some serve as arresting introductions to their songs (the clacking chain of a roller coaster, the rattling of train tracks, the hoot of an owl). Most of the others are completely sporadic, inexplicable, and, at times, unsettling (not unsettling in an odd way. More in a “why are there sounds of weeping in this song?” way). It also has its inaccessible traits, and, of course, it is very weird.

The album even seems like the product of some sort of experiment: a collection of songs based almost entirely on pre-recorded samples of music, combined with Lennox’s own voice and lyrics. But the combination sounds so perfect that it’s hard to believe that he didn’t know exactly what he was doing. Do you really expect me to think that he somehow stumbled upon this and this and wrote something as fantastic as Take Pills on the spot? How likely is it that he looked around, found a song that he liked, took a random two seconds from it, and expanded it into the mesmerizing, monolithic Bros?

Now, samples as compositional tools are usually used by rappers or mash-up artists as uncreative backing music or as compositions in themselves. Lennox, however, truly makes the samples he uses his own. He layers them and fades them in and out of each other, drowning it all in reverb and creating dense, entrancing whirlpools of sound. Not only that, but Lennox is a superb songwriter. His sublime vocal harmonies and enlightening, encouraging lyrics (“coolness is having courage/courage to do what’s right/Try to remember always/always to have a good time,” et al) are irresistible. The breezy surf rock samples and driving tribal ostinatos make the songs that much better.

It’s a splendorous, wonderful album, and I have a problem with it. You know how I described Bros as “monolithic”? Allow me to elaborate: it’s twelve-and-a-half minutes long. That’s a damn long time. Like, longer than Bohemian Rhapsody long. I’m not saying that there’s anything inherently wrong with such a long song. I wouldn’t really have a problem with it if Good Girls/Carrots wasn’t the exact same length. Together, these two songs consume half of the album. These aren’t bad songs at all. Actually, they’re great. Still, trying to take them both in along with the rest of the album in one sitting can be an exhausting feat, especially for someone whose mind is riddled with ADD (me).

Perhaps the massive songs are what makes the music experimental? I give up. I guess I’ll just never know. What I do know is this: whatever the hell Panda Bear’s music is, it’s good. Really, in the end, when you get past all of the weird time signatures and song structures and free-form pieces and inexplicable weeping noises, isn’t that what truly matters?

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Next time, I dive head-first into my foreign film selection, leaping off the platform that is Waltz with Bashir. Metaphors!

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