Thursday, June 2, 2011

My Top 12 Songs of All-Time...Right Now: #4

Panda Bear
Single from the album Person Pitch
Single release date: September 4, 2006
Pitchfork's Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s: 48

As this list slowly reaches its logical conclusion, it has become increasingly difficult to rank some of my all-time favorites. Case-in-point: “Bros” at #4 is criminally too low, but three other songs have had even more of an impact on my music preferences today.

Panda Bear is the pseudonym of Noah Lennox, known for his work in Animal Collective. His band has cranked out eight studio albums since 2000, but Lennox has still found time to release four full-lengths, including this year’s great Tomboy. 2007’s Person Pitch, however, has been the rare album that has received spins every year from me since its release. (Let’s be real: Even when an album is great in a particular year, it can be easy to forget about it with the influx of new music or perhaps more “accessible” options from the same era.) The entire album is quite enveloping, an escape, as it produces the extraordinary sensation of wishing it would never end. The undeniable centerpiece of this album is “Bros”, a twelve-minute sprawling, heartfelt gem.

It starts off striking in its lack of immediacy. In fact, it sounds very sweet and sugary in its heavily-layered, slow-paced beauty. Cue Lennox’s unmistakable Wilsonian vocals, hiding meekly behind loads of reverb. As a result, the song almost sounds like some oldies classic that begs to be listened out of an old-timey radio or jukebox. “Bros” trudges onward, continuing through different movements that subtly add more and more elements and effects, trying to outdo the previous in grandiosity. About halfway through, that repetitive guitar strum, simple enough to be used in a million songs for a million different emotions and feelings, kicks in, segueing into the second half. Every time though, it is almost as if it comes out of nowhere. Lo and behold, on and on it goes, as Lennox’s vocals become more indistinguishable…and yet the song progresses. It is wonderfully paced, and the instrumental interludes are almost prompts to appreciate the overwhelming beauty of the song. A twelve-and-a-half minute song might seem like a marathon, but no minute is wasted and, like the entire album, could go on forever without complaint.

Oh, how about those lyrics? Supposedly, Lennox wrote them for his titular brother after their father’s death (along with Animal Collective’s “Brother Sport”), but as is the beauty of music, they can be applied to anyone or anything. The opening line is rather blunt and on paper sounds like something from some radio rock schlock: “Hey hey, what’s your problem? / Don’t you know that I don’t belong to you?” He later confesses that “I’m not trying to forget you / I just like to be alone / Come give me the space I need / And you may, and you may, and you may, and you may find that we’re alright”. Any problematic friendship or relationship could fall squarely into the song’s crosshairs: Look, I don’t want to lose you, but give it some time, and we’ll be okay. In the indecipherable ending, Lennox concludes with “I do love you and / I want to hold on to you for always”. “Bros” is not a song of ending, but rather of new beginning. The entire song exudes positivity, as an almost cheer-up mechanism for the initial difficulty of transition.

I could go on and on. The fact that one song could be so evocative and powerful has always been fascinating to me. What’s even more fascinating: There are still three more songs like this. Not to be overshadowed, “Bros” is a well-crafted masterpiece deserving of every superlative.

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