Noah Lennox has been making music with Animal Collective for over 20 years, but since at least as early as 2007, with the release of that year’s revelatory Person Pitch, his solo output as Panda Bear has rivaled or at times even bested that of his band. Yet in 2011 he found a worthy collaborator outside of that group in Pete Kember, better known as onetime Spacemen 3 member Sonic Boom, who co-produced that year’s Tomboy as well as its follow-up Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. But at least in name, if likewise in aesthetic, those were still primarily Lennox’s affair, bright and hypnotic showcases for his unique cut-and-paste pop with a seasoned psychedelic veteran helping to shape them behind the scenes.
Reset is the first to feature Sonic Boom as a marquee performer alongside Panda Bear, a sunny record of back-to-basics pop and early rock ‘n’ roll-influenced music comprising droning guitar jangle, Beach Boys-like vocal harmonies and layers of warm, fuzzy samples. Inspired heavily by Kember’s own collection of vintage rock ‘n’ roll vinyl, which the duo sought refuge in during the early days of the pandemic, Reset is considerably simpler and more direct than anything Panda Bear’s released in a long time, offering something that doesn’t feel overworked or fussed-over. These are simple songs with simple melodies, a don’t-overthink-it revelation that makes Reset one of Panda Bear’s most instantly enjoyable records.
Kember makes his presence known as a performer more prominently here, whether through the one-chord drone and shimmer of “Go On,” one of the most prominent callbacks to his cult-’80s psych-rock outfit, or the presence of his deeper vocal tone on “Everyday.” A track like “Gettin’ to the Point,” meanwhile, offers a reminder of the kind of zen-like ambient pop repetition that made Panda Bear’s records so uniquely stunning when he began to set himself apart from Animal Collective, its looping acoustic guitar strums and and infectious vocal melodies feeling like a slightly more rock cousin to “Comfy in Nautica.” Yet it’s on tracks like “Whirlpool” where the collaboration shines brightest, each layer of sonic glimmer on its own just one simple element in a much more majestic whole, a beautifully lush swirl of electronics and low-key rhythmic pulse.
Though in Animal Collective’s earliest days, Lennox has participated in the creation of music far more frantic and chaotic, he’s not necessarily known for choosing a more abrasive path. Yet, with Sonic Boom, he’s crafted something unusually warm and comforting, a relatively simple album that’s intended to feel good and effortlessly succeeds at doing so. There’s a certain contradiction between comfort music and that we find innovative or novel, but that doesn’t mean they’re mutually exclusive. Reset feels natural and easy—not necessarily easy to make, as it’s often more complicated to strip elements away than to continue to add them, but to simply soak in and enjoy. It’s music intended for the simplest of pleasures, and that in itself feels like a revelation.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.