Layers and Layers of Panda Bear

19 May

Most of the following came from and email I sent to a friend. I’ve revised and added and cut to make it less sloppy and more acceptably sloppy at once. Here:

I want to spend a second relaying how to listen to layered music, the kind that gives you nothing to hold on to without being high.


song: afterburner

artist: panda bear



I’m not down to keep up
Trying to keep up
One slip up
Up on our way
I’m so tired of taking
Of taking it
One slip up
Up on our way

I don’t buy it
I say
So leave it alone

So it moves forwards
I’ll always ask
What’s the point of making?
The makings are our only hope
It’s not late
It’s not too late
To keep it real
You ask me to keep it real


Pitchfork track blurb:

‘Even by this record’s Sequoia-like standards, the layering and repetitive pattern-work on “Afterburner”, Tomboy’s lengthiest track, is impossibly thick. Noah Lennox piles on rhythm after rhythm, track after track, evoking (depending on your birth year) F-14s and Donkey Kong Country and killer whales and Return of the Jedi to trance-inducing effect. In seven minutes, Lennox is able to set a mood and, perhaps more remarkably, a sense of temperature. He applies heat. Everything put in place whirs and melts together into one massive, all-encompassing torrent. And at the center is that voice, shot through every single molecule of the space. All those moving parts are much easier to hear and visualize once Lennox eventually steps away from the mic, but even so, there’s no denying the warmth– could be a womb, could be an embrace– that comes with feeling like you’re sharing a safe place.’


My ‘Instructions’:

I think a lot of people find layers annoying because it is kind of sensory override trying to focus on everything at once like you do in a, say, Paul Simon track. There is too much going on to do that so you have to let your mind wander and have a sort of mentally detached approach. Your mind will automatically tell you to listen to the beat, but Panda and AC (and a bunch of others) both use repetition in their sounds so that you get sensory exhaustion and kind of have to find the other layers. This kind of song you will not get even a third of on the first listen, so i think of every listen as a sort of expedition looking for something new. N.B.: This is incorrectly written as instructional but I mean it as sort of a guide to compare your own experiences to.


find a layer and follow it. if you start with the beat which is easiest, it goes through the motions here: until 1:06 where it starts over and maintains for the most part that loop until the song ends. The beat i am talking about comes in after the bongos at 15 underneath the guitars.


The sped up killer whales resurface here (selected randomly):

If you follow them they are there almost the whole song, including much slower and more noticeably at the beginning.

 Three seconds in are the speeders from Star Wars as well as 25.

 Of course most of these layers are cursory and the main layers are vocals, ‘drums’, and ‘guitars’ (quotes because I dont know if that is the actual instrumentation).

What it means to me:

There is a lot more in this song than i’ve pointed out. most of it i dont know what it is, but sometimes i figure it out without trying which is an experience that keeps me coming back. This song for me is about making art and how he hates that pressure of making every track great. He is wondering why one slip up, one bad track, is such a bad thing to the point where he briefly asks what’s the point of making? or, what’s the point of making music/art?. The paradox at the end is interesting and bitingly sarcastic on one level, all the people saying ‘keep it real’ but then expecting him to make only good albums. Anyway i dont agree with the pitchfork write up because i think it is too hot in the space he creates and it gets uncomfortable with all the pressure. The key is minor, i dont know why that would be comfortable, plus he wrote it in some dark basement which i feel here too. I guess to return to the keep it real line, he ultimately wants the meaning of that revised under a new context when experimentation is held above perfection, but only then is the track ‘a safe place’ and not within its current state at all for me.



This is why i like layered music over more linear Modest Mousy stuff. I can’t imagine thinking this hard about Doin’ the Cockroach. Sometimes it is tiring to listen to layers though so i do need variety. And sometimes I just need the catharsis of some guy screaming about Cockroaches. Or I tell myself I do.

Bonus evaluation of layered lyrics:

Example Track:

I had a sort of obsession with the 7″ version for a while and I think I showed it to Derek in the car after the Ruby Suns/ some-other-band-called Local Natives? concert. I’ve included the Tomboy version in the link but I think the question I’m asking holds, though I will mention the lyrics in the 7″ version were squished together and harder to understand especially in the verses.

I am wondering how important lyrics are in this sort of music and whether what I hear should be tantamount to what I read or vice versa. Mostly for Radiohead etc I read the lyrics to derive the meaning but I know Aaron and I were playing some ‘Bros’ in the car after Inception and he was really surprised I didn’t know the official lyrics to the song. Here’s why I rarely look up Panda Bear lyrics until after struggling long and hard with them myself:

The official Slow Motion lyrics:

So they say practice makes you perfect
So they say you can’t teach an old dog
So they say have an apple a day
So they say better safe than sorry

Everyone knows what they always say

And when I slow it down
It’s clear just how
It’s what they don’t say
That’s what counts

Deep down (what counts)
Step up, step off

So they say practice makes you perfect
So they say you can’t teach an old dog
So they say have an apple a day
So they say better safe than sorry

Everyone knows what they always say

And when I slow it down
It’s clear just how
It’s what they don’t say
That’s what counts

It’s counting
And be sure it counts

My Take:

This is how the lyrics would be published in a booklet, by my initial reaction is where the hell is the word ‘counting’. That is the main word of the main phrase (it’s counting) in the song and it barely appears here. I love the non-official listen when ‘it’s counting’ is repeated over and over sort of as a reminder that we are alive and this is our lives, take them seriously, have fun, do good things. But in the lyrics it seems to be more a song about people using these cliches too often and never thinking about what the truth behind them or absent from them truly is. Now I don’t deny this second bit is important I just think the focus of the song isn’t there which I miss in a strictly lyrical interpretation. So do y’all think the lyrics in this type of music are more subjective than other types of music or are all lyrics subjective? I’d also like to note that AC never publishes lyrics to their music and leaves us to suss them out with our own ears.

Tell me how you guys go about listening to a track/album and how lyrics come into it. Four scoops of love, one scoop of peanut butter, one cup of eggnog, and love,



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