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Review: Panda Bear – Tomboy (Expanded Edition, Paw Tracks, 2011)

Going into this review, we know at least partly how it’s going to turn out: Tomboy made my top ten list for 2011, after all, so I obviously think it’s a wonderful record. The Expanded Edition is a whole other beast, though: consisting of new mixes, instrumentals, and a capella versions of the originals, there’s a lot more for us to discuss with this release. As if the original wasn’t good enough!

This beautiful box set consists of a sturdy hard cardboard box featuring the original album art, containing four black 180 g LPs, with the original Tomboy tracks split between the first two LPs, along with extra track “The Preakness“, which opens LP 2, an album of mixes (the Single Mixes) on LP three, and instrumental/a cappella versions of the original tracks on the fourth, and an album-sized lyrics/credits booklet. The art throughout the box continues the theme of grey pencils on off-white crushed paper as in the original album art, with each LP featuring a different scene: a boy on his father’s shoulders, a man walking off a boardwalk onto a beach, and so on. The booklet, a high-quality affair with thick paper pages, is laid out the same way, with pencil on the cover, and lyrics typed on off-white crushed paper inside. Overall, the presentation is beautiful.

Like my last review, Tomboy had a lot to live up to, musically. Both artists were creating followups to groundbreaking pieces of art that were roundly recognized as such. How does one deal with the pressure that is placed on someone who produces so seminal a piece of work? Where Cursive’s answer was to change things up, Noah Lennox’s (Panda Bear’s) approach is to expand the range of sounds he creates while still remaining true to the musical philosophy behind the tracks on Person Pitch. Tomboy is the next logical step for the performer who created Person Pitch: continuing to do what works, and trying new things without completely redoing the formula.

Tomboy opens with You Can Count On Me, beginning with a chorus of harmonies, and we immediately know that we’re listening to a Panda Bear album. The soothing neo-surf meets ambient electronic that is characteristic of Panda Bear’s sound remains, though on this album, Lennox creates the sounds he distorts and loops with live instruments rather than making use of samples in many cases. These changes are obvious on the title track, where Lennox’s straightforward treatment of the song with guitar shining through mark one of the obvious changes from Person Pitch, which was a much less straightforward album overall. In fact, while stylistically, this album is similar in many ways to Person Pitch, it is much less sonically dense: Lennox has made the decision to strip down the arrangements a little, and the songs don’t suffer. Like I said in my year-end list, there’s nothing truly groundbreaking on this album, but that’s okay, Panda Bear did that last time around. We can’t criticize him for creating a near-masterpiece just because it’s similar to the last near-masterpiece.

As for the extra music on this expanded edition, it’s certainly aimed at the bigger fans of Panda Bear. The extra track, The Preakness, on LP 2 of the original Tomboy, is a fine addition: a soft, simple song that features Lennox’s guitar. The differences in the Single Mixes are very minor, for the most part (ie. minor differences in the mixing in terms of levels, addition of short parts or changes to the intro/outro of certain songs, etc… essentially touchups), until we get to Scheherazade, which is drastically different from it’s album version, and makes for a really interesting listen. As for the rest of the tracks, Alsatian Darn, Bullseye, and You Can Count On Me are also altered significantly, rocking up the latter with additional guitar and vocals, and perhaps even improving on the originals in the case of the first two. I was actually a little disappointed that they chose to include these tracks instead of the remixes that have appeared on the singles (ie. the Actress remix of Surfer’s Hymn) if only because the mixes are more drastic and I’m interested in hearing another take on the tracks. The instrumental and a cappella versions of the songs are pretty interesting, as we tend to focus on different parts of each of these songs when listening to the full mixes, and so the listening experience for these tracks is much more focused. I heard things I hadn’t previously heard.

This box is a neat addition to any library, but is definitely a must-have for big fans of Panda Bear, who will definitely want to have copies of this for The Preakness and for the interesting versions found in the Single Mixes. Buy it directly from the Paw Tracks shop, or get it at a better price from your favorite vinyl vendor. Also note that all the proceeds from the sale of this set will go to the American Cancer Society, as if there wasn’t already enough reason to buy this thing! With only 5000 copies pressed, get it while you can!

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