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coverpic flag US - New York - Full Moon 100 - 11/26/04

Panda Bear
Young Prayer
Paw Tracks

My mother died eleven years ago. I was sixteen. Soon after she died I started making music on a four track with my best friend Mark. As The Green Husbands we recorded about fifty songs, mostly embarrassing to hear now, which included "She Cried Alone", an edge-of-tears lament about my mother's last years of suffering, abandoned by my father, terminally ill, left to waste away in an NHS hospital where they turned off the machine that allowed her degraded lungs to breathe.

The song I wrote was literal, self-pitying and morose, weighed down with the guilt of not being able to save her, and self-importance over what I'd lost as a son, desperately attempting to come to terms with something that was senseless to a confused teenager. I was reaching for the sound of someone sober and articulate, wise beyond my years and able to learn from pain. What shit! If I was really honest I should have connected with the emotion at the root of how I felt: anger - sheer, electric blood-boiling anger. I should have taken some lessons from my favourite CD of that time, Siamese Dream, melting away in overdrive and an acid-bath of feedback.

And now, eleven years on, I come to Young Prayer by Noah Lennox - Panda Bear - the latest release from the Animal Collective. The album, dedicated to Noah's dead father and recorded two years ago in their home, is an elegant, weightless half-hour of vulnerable song-sketches that reaches for something impossible, and crumples limply but beautifully in doing so. Needless to say, these wordless hymns are one hell of a lot more evocative that my ham-handed attempt with "She Cried Alone".

Mostly just acoustic guitar and voice, occasionally mustering percussion and a little piano, these songs sound like withered counterparts of the lush soundscapes on Campfire Songs. The other Animal Collective members are off in another room, dropping acid and rubbing crayons on guitars made from bark, leaving Panda Bear alone on the porch soul searching, his lovely high voice clear but brittle, the chords stopping and starting, desperately trying to resonate with the waves of feeling from within. The music only just hangs together, momentum lost as silence is allowed to breathe.

I can't help but compare the atmosphere of this CD with the image of Brian Wilson, on the edge, playing 'feels' on the piano in his LA sandpit. Substitute the piano and the LA sandpit with an acoustic guitar and Panda Bear's front room, and the picture is almost complete.

But there's something missing. The question I'm left with is whether I'll actually want to listen to this CD again. I frequently return to the other Animal Collective releases, immersing myself in the sylvan soundworld of Campfire Songs, freaking out with Spirit They've Gone..., or dancing and singing along like a nutter to the brilliant Sung Tongs. But Young Prayer? Too raw; too personal; too fragile. Maybe next year.

Copyright © 2004 Tim Clarke e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Panda Bear articles/reviews: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, Tomboy.

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