As the saying goes, you can’t always get what you want. It’s hard for something to be great every time. Sometimes, sights are set too high. That is exactly what happened with Buoys, the latest release from Noah Lennox, more widely known as Panda Bear. That is not to say that the album is bad. It’s actually very good, but something is off.
In his sixth album, Panda Bear, co-founding member of Animal Collective and frequent solo act, tries something new. Gone are the days of humongous, lush soundscapes and curious lead samples. On Buoys, he only utilizes his highly processed voice, swampy basslines, compressed synthesizers, an acoustic guitar and the occasional sound sample. It’s a strange combination of sounds, but for the most part, it works. The looped guitar licks nestle with bubbling bass while the synth strikes veer anywhere and everywhere with no regard. It sounds disorienting, not in a nauseating way, but a hypnotizing one. Singles “Dolphins” and “Token” are instances where this effect is executed flawlessly. They sound like the listener is swimming through a highly viscous fluid where sounds travel just a little too fast. It’s mesmerizing. In fact, it is almost fascinating to hear.
All of Buoys unfolds like this, and it’s great. However, it also leaves listeners wanting more. Lennox is a little too deep in his own zone with this album. It sounds like he found the exact sound he wanted for the album, then refused to explore other soundscapes. Album standout “Inner Monologue” is the only song to break the mold. The song begins with a vocal sample of a woman’s trembling voice, which is soon joined by a droning horn blast and a meandering guitar. Shortly after, Lennox’s voice replaces the horn blasts, and the song erupts into a flurry of sound. It is unlike any other song, both on the album and elsewhere in the industry. “Inner Monologue” serves as an example as to why it is so important to diversify within the album’s set sound. It yields absolutely fantastic results.
However, “Inner Monologue” is the exception, not the rule. The other songs on Buoys just do not live up to the standards that previous Panda Bear releases set forth. While albums like Person Pitch and Tomboy both alter and contort their sound in different ways with each subsequent song, Buoys allows its sound to steep to the point of stagnation. It is admirable that Lennox tried this new sound, that much is certain, but he merely evolves his own sound rather than expanding upon it.
All in all, Buoys is a wonderful collection of songs. The issue is that the highs are few and far between. Aside from the album’s sound as a whole, no individual song takes a step outside of the realm of the expected. Buoys just does not thrill. It doesn’t disappoint, but there is such little diversity that it is hard to be satisfied upon the album’s completion. Panda Bear has opened the door for an intriguing new sound, but for the most part, Buoys leaves listeners with a craving for something that isn’t there.