Imagine if you will, just for a moment, a strawman music fan who likes “real” music, played on “real” instruments by “real” people. I come across this kind of person less and less these days, but I used to encounter them all the time. My counter to their insistence on “real” music was always that it sounded boring, and that I preferred the idea of “unreal” music, which surely must be more exciting.
Panda Bear makes “unreal” music, both with Animal Collective and on his own. Music that doesn’t sound real, music that floats, that can’t be touched, that doesn’t seem to stem from anything physical. It’s a remarkable trick; one that has actually, despite my pining for “unreal” music, given me plenty of problems, and not a few headaches, over the years.
Six years on, I still don’t really understand Person Pitch. Nonetheless, I’ve come to the conclusion that I like this strange, amniotic earworm of a record, even if I have to use it as a bastardised kind of ambient music rather than as bona fide pop, despite its sugar-sweet melodies, delicious harmonies, and abundance of hooks.
Someone I played Person Pitch to once described it as “Gregorian chant Beach Boys”, and it is, as heard underwater, from a fairground, in a memory. Sonically it’s bizarre, indistinct and shimmering, so drenched in echo and reverb as to almost dissolve before your ears, and built on a web of strange samples and loops that could be musique concrète or could be something else entirely.
Person Pitch’s best moments – the second half of “Take Pills”, the first half of “Bros” – attain a state of euphoric tedium which is unlike pretty much anything else I’ve ever heard. The whole thing drifts like your mind in that weird state of semi-consciousness between sleeping and waking up in the morning, when time stretches and sways. Panda Bear overlays vocals in repeated mantras of delicious, 60s West Coast lineage melodies. There are songs underneath the shimmering, patterns and choruses and verses, but they’re merely vehicles for the strange, uncanny emotions they inspire. Which, more often than not, are a kind of unearned nostalgia, a false memory syndrome for the heart.
There’s a long list of musicians and bands in the crazily collaged sleeve, running from Isolee to The Clienetele to Vashti Bunyan to Queen to Aphex Twin to Scott Walker to Nina Simone to Portishead to Horace Andy and covering a lot of ground in between and beyond. Person Pitch is almost like one man’s attempt to assimilate all his influences, and then splurge them all, at once, into a strange tapestry. Of course, like any unified theory of everything, it has its issues, and it exists halfway between genius and messy tedium; the final third of “Bros” and the first movement of “Good Girl / Carrots” feel like endurance tests if I’m not in the mood, and leave you wondering why, when Panda Bear can write melodies and harmonies as sweet as he evidently can, why he doesn’t always bother.
Noah Lennox and I are similar ages, and we’re both married. I don’t have kids but I imagine our wants are similar; two walls and adobe slabs, for our girls. Very real things, in which to keep safe our emotional lives. But sometimes emotions are best expressed through unreality. Sometimes the buzzing, reverberating unreality of it all gives me a headache; but mostly nowadays it makes me smile.