As a member of Animal Collective, Panda Bear has spent the past decade and a half exploring the middle ground between experimental noise and lush psychedelic pop. On his latest solo effort, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, the songwriter born Noah Lennox once again mines that rich terrain, and the results gorgeously encapsulate his signature sound.
Sonically, the album frequently resembles Animal Collective's 2012 album Centipede Hz, as its dense arrangements are slathered in queasy synth squiggles. Interlude tracks "Davy Jones' Locker" and "Shadow of the Colossus" consist entirely of swooning electronic abstractions, while similar sounds run at a subliminal level through most of the more traditionally structured songs. Luckily, Grim Reaper has what Centipede Hz lacked--dazzling melodies, and lots of them. "Sequential Circuits" begins the album with cathedral-size harmonies, while the infectious vocal runs of "Mr Noah" lend a sense of sweetness to its psychedelic surge. "Boys Latin" is particularly beautiful in the way it uses ping-ponging call-and-response singing to augment its disorienting synth burbles. Elsewhere, Panda Bear employs buoyant breakbeats to anchor his adventurous forays. All of this makes for a riveting push and pull between tension and unabashed beauty.