Formed in: 1998, New York, New York
Key Albums: Person Pitch (2007), Tomboy (2011)
Panda Bear is the musical moniker of Noah Lennox (born 1978), a founding member of shape-shifting American band Animal Collective. Lennox released his first, eponymous Panda Bear album in 1998, before Animal Collective officially existed, but it wasn't until the release of 2007's Person Pitch that his solo guise found true acclaim. The record was named Album of the Year by internet site Pitchfork, received near unanimous critical acclaim, and proved a huge influence on the genre chillwave.
Lennox and his childhood friend Josh Dibb (future Animal Collective member Deakin) first met in the second grade, in suburban Baltimore. Eventually, they began making music together in middle-school. When Lennox moved to Pennsylvania to attend high-school, Dibb began working with his new school pals Brian Weitz and Dave Portner (future AC members Geologist and Avey Tare, respectively). The quartet continued swapping home-made recordings before finally, in 2003, officially becoming Animal Collective after various collaborative works.
In 1998, after finishing at Boston University, Lennox and Dibb moved to New York. Whilst there, they worked through a slew of Lennox's recordings and compiled it onto the first Panda Bear album, a self-titled, self-released affair that stands as the first official entry in Animal Collective’s discography.
It was only six years and five Animal Collective albums later that Lennox returned to his solo guise. When his father was diagnosed with brain cancer, Lennox composed 2004's Young Prayer for him, as one singular set of carefully-worded acoustic compositions.
"It was a gift to my father when he was sick, and I wanted to make him happy if I could," said Lennox, to the Milk Factory, in 2005. "I wanted to cheer him up and I wanted to tell him that he'd done really great in his time. I was pretty fucked up but I wanted to keep going and I wanted to have strength."
As a dialogue designed for his father, Young Prayer is built around the words. "I spent like a whole summer roughing the words, and I wrote about four or five times the amount of words that actually ended up on the record," Lennox told me, in 2007. "I wanted the rhythms of the songs, and the singing and the guitar-playing, to all match the rhythms of the words."
In 2004, Animal Collective finished up a European tour in support of Sung Tongs with a show in Lisbon, Portugal. At a loose end, Lennox ended up falling in with a group of Portuguese friends. "I wound up spending three days with these people and one of [them] was this girl, and I just kind of got involved with her pretty intensely," he told Pop Matters. The 'girl' was Fernanda Pereira, a local designer who'd soon become his wife. By 2005, the couple had welcomed their first daughter, Nadja, into the world.
Now living in Lisbon's Barrio Alto neighborhood, far from his bandmates, Lennox found himself recording more and more on his lonesome. Inspired by dance-music producers like Luomo and Ricarda Villalobos, Lennox started using sampling software, creating long, dreamy compositions he hoped could work on the dancefloor.
In 2005 he released a single "I'm Not/Comfy in Nautica," and by early 2007, he'd issued "Bros" and "Carrots." The songs, and the album that collected them, Person Pitch, were united in a feeling of sunny optimism.
"I moved from New York to Lisbon," Lennox said to me, "and it's kind of like night and day, in a way. It's really, really sunny here, and I think the warm vibe of everything around here, of every day around here, has just kind of blended into my music... The gameplan for Person Pitch, from day one, was to produce a positive experience."
Much to Lennox's surprise, Person Pitch found unanimous critical acclaim, ending up on countless Best-Albums-of-2007 lists. This, when coupled with his new family, has provided the impetus for Lennox to take his solo outing more seriously.
"I definitely have been noticing how much more diligent and focused and willing to work on the stuff now than I used to be," he said, to Stylus, in 2007. "I feel like I can't really make any mistakes or I can't f**k around with anything, because I've got two people that are really depending on me to make things happen for them."
Lennox put Panda Bear on hold not long after Person Pitch, as Animal Collective would swiftly release 2007's Strawberry Jam and 2009's ridiculously successful Merriweather Post Pavilion. Whilst he was gone, working with his main band, Person Pitch persisted in the pop-cultural landscape. When the micro-genre chillwave first bubbled up in the blogosphere in 2009, the record served as an obvious musical touchstone.
Lennox finally began work on his fourth album in 2010. Late that year, he started releasing the songs from the record, Tomboy, as singles, as he'd done with Person Pitch. Each came out on a different label (Paw Tracks, Domino, Kompakt, Fat Cat), and slowly brought into focus the much-awaited fourth Panda Bear LP.
"I think this group of songs themselves are a little bit more individualistic compared to the Person Pitch songs," Lennox warned, in a 2010 interview with Brooklyn Vegan. "These are all kinda like their own beast."
When assembled as whole, the Tomboy tracks were mixed and polished off by Sonic Boom, former goon from '80s cult band Spacemen 3 (and guy who produced MGMT's wacky second album, Congratulations). By the time it was eventually released, in 2011, Tomboy had reached 'much awaited' status, and it was met with another chorus of critical praise.