Album Review: Panda Bear & Sonic Boom – Reset

[Domino; 2022]

Who has done more for psychedelic music in the 21st Century than Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear? With Animal Collective, he co-founded this era’s greatest psychedelic rock band, mining magic out of noise, folk, dub and pop for two decades and counting. As a solo artist, he hit a high-water mark with the kaleidoscopic Person Pitch, which among other accolades nabbed Pitchfork’s 2007 Album of the Year over records like In Rainbows, Kala and Untrue (AnCo’s own Strawberry Jam also made the top 10 that year). Panda kept the magic coming on follow-up albums Tomboy (2011) and Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (2015), for which Peter Lember aka Sonic Boom joined on production. The former Spacemen 3 member provides a noticeably loud influence to his records, a factor that was missing on the relatively chill Buoys (2019).

Sonic Boom did not work on Bouys, but Panda Bear’s new album Reset finds the pair reunited and, for the first time, credits Kember as the album’s artist along with Panda Bear. As an architect of the basic loops that form these songs, Sonic Boom’s musical palette fits familiarly with Lennox’s. Album opener “Gettin’ to the Point” is built on a guitar sample that sounds like the one used in the peak of Panda Bear’s “Bros”, a callback that is sure to delight fans. With touches of swirling sound under Mr. Noah’s evergreen voice, this track has the psychedelic Panda Bear sound we know and love. The loop that grounds “Danger” is, despite its title, summery and warm, with Panda’s güiro complimenting the beachy sound suggestive of the artists’ homes in Lisbon.

Kember’s influence is at times questionable, though. Single “Edge of the Edge”, for instance, features a harsh dial-up tone. “When I was working with MGMT, years ago,” Kember told Pitchfork, “I bought a toy that had all these modem sounds… but MGMT hated it. I tried to use it with Beach House, and they hated it too.” It makes sense that these artists hated it, because it sounds bad. Every song here has its own bells and whistles – often literally – but they can feel unnecessary, breaking through the dubby core of these tracks instead of melding with them. “Livin’ in the After” has a beautiful orchestral sample that makes the track, but an annoying slide whistle shoves its way into the foreground too many times. This same sound effect gets abused elsewhere on “Everyday”, but the song is lovely enough to make up for it. “In My Body”, by contrast, sounds like it’s built on empty space. It’s one of the more interesting tracks here, a kind of ambient meditation on internal rhythm, though it lacks the momentum of other songs.

Clocking in at about 35 minutes, Reset is a short affair, and a loose one at that. Several decades into their well-established careers, it doesn’t feel like Panda Bear and Sonic Boom were aiming for a landmark record, and that’s okay. As he has proven again and again, Panda Bear has enough talent to make one of his less-than-monumental works worth a listen. And although Sonic Boom sometimes overstuffs the record with unnecessary sounds, his chemistry with Panda Bear is natural. Perhaps next time they’ll leave the toy in the box, though.