Many of 2004’s best albums were made by people who didn’t have to be anyone to anyone, who weren’t afraid to be their own weird, weird, weird selves, who didn’t feel obligated to make the kind of music that would sell albums. Their goals weren’t “conceptual” or about carrying on the rock ‘n’ roll banner. The forest unfolded inside their minds, the latent 1960s euphoric fantastic, and birthed on the tips of their tongues without an owl or industry executive to ask “Who?” As in “Who are you?” or “Who do you think you are?”
Noah Lennox, more commonly known as one of the key players in the psychedelic Animal Collective, returned to his band/alter-ego Panda Bear to record Young Prayer. Now that we’ve reached the end of a year of such carrying on, by the moss and the animals and other precocious 23-year-old children, Panda Bear’s long elegy may perhaps mark the third apex of the neo-folk avant-noise scene. The first two were Joanna Newsom’s The Milk-Eyed Mender and Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs, and now comes Panda Bear, with arms wide open.
Written in the shadow of his father’s death, Lennox’s Young Prayer is as moving as it is original: its amorphous tangential quality, that no note had to be, and yet that each note is; its amniotic diversions, warm and unknowing; its oystered walls of basement confusion.
With the exception of Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, there are relatively few large American works of art dedicated to mourning. Most mourning takes place in private. Lifting the drawn curtains into that solitude (without seeming somewhere between exhibitionistic and opportunistic in the age of reality TV) reveals an astonishing inner resilience. Pendulous notes stick to the teeth and then filter through, rearranging themselves howsoever they wish in the aftermath of their appearance.
Crafting a series of modern Gregorian chants, or if you’re up on your medieval scholarship, something along the lines of Joachim, Lennox has reinvented the liturgical prayer on his own terms. Some albums are better suited to grease your hair with. Young Prayer can ruin your day, if need be. But it’s rather perceptive like that.