by Vincent Costello
Buoys, the sixth solo album from Panda Bear, is a dull mess with very few high points. Better known for his days with Animal Collective, Panda Bear keeps some of the features of his old sound, but mostly tries something entirely new on this project. He has stated that with Buoys he wanted to create a sound that would feel familiar to a young person’s ears, which he accomplishes in part with a more straightforward structure and production style that ventures into pop and away from his usual experimental tunes. Although that makes this a pleasant listen, the album is a repetitive mess that lacks enough layers or originality to hold up the weight of the new sound.
Going into any Animal Collective album, whether it’s the group together, or in this case a solo venture, there are expectations of experimentation and original sounds. With Buoys, Panda Bear tries the exact opposite. Though he does keep his style of using repetitive samples, he doesn’t really do much on top of the loops. Tracks such as the lead single “Dolphin” or “I Know I Don’t Know” and “Crescendo” keep the same samples going for most of the song and have so much empty space that it makes it hard to get through the whole track. It is absolutely okay to have simple sounding music, but if the lyrics don’t have much impact, the sounds of the album are pretty familiar and the music doesn’t stand out as original or new, then you run the risk of isolating your audience. There is just no substance to it. Thirty seconds in, all the samples and song structures that he is going to use have been heard and leave little reason to listen all the way through. The structures of the tracks are as straightforward as straight looping, sometimes with an additional chorus that is such a derivative of the verses that if you weren’t actively listening you probably couldn’t tell the difference.
The tracks that I loved the most on this album were those that stayed true to the old Panda Bear sound. “Token” has an underlying sample that is smooth and clean, but at the same time dizzying from the constant pan changes and commentary vocals. The weird sounds that fill the space between the vocal lines keep the listener continuously invested and make the track very catchy. The tension-building bridge with its rising feeling synths make “Token” a standout in terms of structure. This track is the only one with a bridge at all, and it makes me wonder how great others could be if he experimented with the song structures more. “Inner Monologue” showcases the acoustic guitar skills present on much of Panda Bear’s work. I really enjoyed the sounds I could only describe as women noises that kept me wanting to listen even closer to the extremely beautifully played guitar part. “Home Free” and “Master” are also tracks that have layers of sampling that kept me invested in listening, but still have major repetition problems.
Panda Bear’s Buoys has some high points, but also a lot of low points. Even though it never got unenjoyable to listen to, a lot of it was boring. With a length of 31 minutes and a weak closer, the album feels very incomplete. After the last track ended the first time I listened, I thought that my headphones had stopped working or the music was paused. Usually, I would want more than half an hour of Panda Bear’s music, but with the lack of substance here I can’t imagine what else he could have tacked on other than more filler. Overall, Panda Bear comes up with a pleasant sounding but repetitive set of tracks that could benefit from sticking with what Panda Bear does best. Instead, this new venture leaves gaping holes in most of the tracks that may make the listener doze off halfway through.