Panda Bear & Sonic Boom
ABOVE THE CURRENT
Reset is an album that resembles a musical toy with its mature lyrical edges covered in gobs of neon-colored Play-Doh. It largely avoids the prickliness of other pandemic releases by rubbing itself in sugary melodies and production, while repeat listens reveal it has a sharp emotional story to tell under the surface—ominous deaths occur on “Go On,” and “Edge of the Edge” alludes to strange fruit with a hidden rot and someone sick as a dog digging through trash. These multilayered and colorful songs flow from Noah Lennox, the psych-pop adventurer best known as Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, and the former Spacemen 3 alt-rocker and compendious producer Pete Kember (a.k.a. Sonic Boom).
Bells, Beach Boys melodies, Latin American percussion gourds, and monster-under-the-bed electronic rumbles charge the Peter Pan heart of this collaborative record. “Gettin’ to the Point,” the tropical opener, feels like the first jump into a warm, aquamarine body of water. Its bright acoustic guitar loop is infectious, recalling Panda Bear’s Person Pitch era. “Go On” and “Everyday” continue the summery streak and push Kember toward the mic, singing “Give it to me” like a mantra on the kaleidoscopic former track, while the latter sees him dive-bombing his airy baritone verses over sequencers, pattering percussion, and slide whistles.
Deeper into the tracklist, Lennox’s psychedelic melody on “Whirlpool” is twisted like a lime over a cold drink by Kember’s eddying production, while “Edge of the Edge” is a quintessential Panda Bear track that encapsulates the kernel of the idea Kember struck upon with his musical partner during the cabin fever days of their 2020 lockdown (it also just sounds straight up like a Beach Boys song). Kember wanted to take the ornate intros to classic tracks from the likes of Eddie Cochran, The Everly Brothers, or even The Belle Stars’ “Iko Iko,” from Rain Man, and really loop the hell out of them in one- or two-chord chunks for Reset. “Edge of the Edge” has a perfect musical intro loop for this, with its telephone-dialing beep and deep-bass doo-wop bump. It’s undeniably catchy from the jump, and works like a musical barber shop pole that can stretch skyward forever.
As the album moves along, its bright loops begin to elongate as the songs become more diffused and intricate. “In My Body” and “Danger” serve as stately and welcome comedowns from earlier musical flights of fancy, while “Livin’ in the After” is this pair’s Van Dyke Parks–like bauble, bursting with strings, rumbling synths, and galloping percussion. You admire its main melody as it glints in the sunshine and down through a canopy of Sonic Boom’s lively instrumentation. The final track on the album keeps the energy at skywriting levels: “Everything’s Been Leading to This” races along as a fitful electro-pop bookend for an album that similarly started with a sugar rush.
Reset is a pop album full of surprises. Seek it out, slip into it for a while, and play in its balmy environment again when you need a restart on your day. We all deserve some bright musical Play-Doh to blunt the sharper edges of adulthood, and the Panda Bear and Sonic Boom factory is fully functional.