Noah Lennox, a.k.a., Panda Bear, the lead singer of Animal Collective, has also released his fair share of solo albums, as other members of the band have done as well. Now on his 5th solo release, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is the journey of Panda Bear exploring death and all of it’s meanings, realities, and effects. Last year, another artist, Flying Lotus, released You’re Dead!, an album that was critically acclaimed and also explored the themes of death, in which Flying Lotus explored death, “in a very interesting way, seeming to turn death into a mythology rather than an inevitability,” which is what I wrote in my review of the record.
Here, with Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, it doesn’t really feel like he’s coming to face with death, even though that topic itself is literally the name of the album and the themes that it is trying to represent.This record is more like Panda Bear invited the Grim Reaper over to his house for an electro-trip-hop dance party with kind of dark lyrics. He makes a very original kind of music, which is a driving force behind what has made Animal Collective so popular over the years, but it doesn’t seem to fit this message he’s trying to bring across. Unless I’m missing the point entirely. Maybe he’s trying to say that meeting the Grim Reaper isn’t really that bad, and that death can be looked at as one giant electro-trip-hop dance party. But no, I mean, that’s pretty messed up.
Then something even weirder happens. Track 8 hits, as a crazy sample transitions us into a new half of the album, one that’s slow, like a ballad, and poses a lot of questions, over “Nutcracker suite” samples, and Panda Bear actually tackles death. Like the Grim Reaper was tired of dancing and they’re coming off their LSD-trip or sugar-high and have this deep conversation out of nowhere, saying things like, “And you won’t come back, you can’t come back.” And it stays down here in a ballad yet beach boys-like-beautiful harmony hellscape of deep reckoning with death thoughts over the next track as well, before the happiness of the last half of the album returns as a sort of “whatever” ode to the album, seeming like a tripped-out Panda Bear take on the end of Yellow Submarine where The Beatles were just like, “fuck it, All You Need Is Love,” where Panda Bear, here on Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, just says, “You’ll trip up again. Go get up again,” as if that last peace of death-reckoning advice will make up for the complete lack of catharsis that was supposed to take place over the course of the album. Maybe I was right before. Maybe it’s just pretty messed up.