Six Degrees of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch
It used to be easier to pretend that an album was its own perfectly self-contained artifact. The great records certainly feel that way. But albums are more permeable than solid, their motivations, executions and inspirations informed by, and often stolen from, their peers and forbearers. It all sounds awfully formal, but it's not. It's the very nature of music — of art, even. The Six Degrees features examine the relationships between classic records and five other albums we've deemed related in some way. In some cases these connections are obvious, in others they are tenuous. But, most important to you, all of the records are highly, highly recommended.
The two-year-old Person Pitch ranks among indie rock's modern marvels, an album that can retrospectively be viewed as one of those moments that sends events coursing in another direction, a shift from Sufjan Stevens' awkward insularity to a naive, happy-go-lucky psychedelia that has since evolved into everything from Animal Collective's unexpected mainstream acceptance (and the widening exposure of Gang Gang Dance, etc) to day-glo T-shirts and buckskin headbands to the new-innocent strains... of indie pop.more »
We know what Person Pitch has lead to, but from what does it originate? The Beach Boys are an obvious influence - the slightly skipping Wurlitzer-sounding rhythm on the epic/incredible "Bros" is Brian Wilson's sad-eyed, beach-bound essence in one five-second loop - but aside from that, it's hard to really pinpoint specifics. The music shifts between different phases of psych, but never quite settles on one: the drifting crunches and 16-millimeter campfires of "Take Pills," the lush exoticism of "Comfy in Nautica," the new aged "I'm Not" and the almost drum-n-bassy "Good Girl/Carrots." It's hard to find much commonality.
What does prove consistent is the vocal style of Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox), a nasally, often double-tracked little yelp that sparkles with effects and mechanized tweaks. It can sound entirely dehumanized, like an atmospheric accompaniment, or it can gush with earnest sincerity.
When these elements come together - as they do almost all the time, but particularly in the album's first three songs, "Nautica," "Pills" and "Bros" - Person Pitch is transforming, a crystallized moment of near-perfection in a sea of mellifluous sounds.
Notorious Byrd Brothers is the strangest of the '60s Byrd records, essentially just a collaboration between Roger McGuinn and bassist Chris Hillman, David Crosby having been fired just as this record was beginning. (McGuinn and Crosby were warring over Crosby's ridiculously awful and overwrought threesome song entitled "Triad"; the song should be burned at the stake.) For all of the drama that surrounded its creation, Notorious is a serene record, a blissed... stroll through Big Sur and the nestled canyons of pre-Manson Los Angeles.more »
Notorious Byrd Brothers' A-side of "Goin' Back," "Natural Harmony," "Draft Morning" and "Wasn't Born to Follow" (opener "Artificial Energy" feels like a tacked-on single attempt) is as good as the Byrds get. "Draft Morning" in particular is wonderfully woozy (Person Pitch's "Comfy in Nautica" comes to mind) and "Wasn't Born to Follow," not Sweetheart of the Rodeo, is the real birth of country-rock. More than anything, though, Notorious is defined by its hazy melancholy - it's an emotional psychedelic.
Speaking of hazy melancholy! French '70s electronic artist Jean Michael Jarre's classic Oxygene – which has sold an absolutely astonishing 12 million copies – is one of the great synthesizer records. Its sectional structure (the pieces are numbered, not named) gives it heft and a serious air, and its minimal composition – extended bass tones coupled with light melodies – engineers a sensation of mystery. Oxygene's entire approach has filtered so fully... through electronic and ambient music in the thirty-some years since its release that its structural impact on Person Pitch might be largely invisible, but is certainly present.more »
The Spaced Out
If we put Oxygene as the farthest point on the Y axis and Person Pitch as the midpoint, Spiritualized's Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space is the other extreme. The work of Jason Pierce, aka J Spaceman, the iconoclastic leader of Spaceman 3 and the creators of the whole UK space-rock scene, Ladies and Gentlemen is very accessible, even with its 17-minute freak-outs and curious blend of gospel and drug-injected... rock. "Electricity" is the big rock 'n' roll hit, but the heart lies in the gauzy murmurs of "Broken Heart" and the title track, which begs for a Panda Bear remix.more »
If Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were twentysomething New Yorkers making music right now, there's a good chance that they wouldn't sound all that different; that's how indie/Brooklyn-ready Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme sounds today (some caveats about arrangements and production apply). You hear this most in Simon and Garfunkel's vocals, their unified harmonies a clear inspiration to every nasally, yearning indie crooner since (Panda Bear chief among them). "Cloudy," the best... of the record's non-hits, showcases the supple softness of their approach wonderfully, and classics "Scarborough Fair," "Homeward Bound" and "The 59th Street Bridge Song" do as well.more »
Smithsonian Folkways' incredible, 20-volume Music of Indonesia series is among the best recordings they have ever released, and the third volume, Music from the Outskirts of Jaka, is particularly mind-blowing. These field recordings capture performances rooted in gamelan – a percussive, multi-toned traditional form of Indonesian music that can sound like anything from wind chimes to clanging pots and pans – that squeal and soar and shriek and moan. Nothing ever sounds... in tune; each performance unfolds like a mystery with various suspects (crazy wind instruments, a sudden singer, a mad flourish) making haphazard introductions.more »
Two things earn Music of Indonesia Vol. 3's placement on this list: 1) It's amazing and 2) It's the closest corollary I know to Person Pitch's more outre moments, like the beginning of "Comfy in Nautica" and the whirrs of "Bros." It's worth a listen.