Cool beautiful murderous plastics
Talkin' double-edged jawns and double-edged songs with electronic chune wizards Panda Bear and Sonic Boom
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Panda Bear, a.k.a. Noah Lennox — he’s been a “Blackbird Spyplane Certified Musical King” since 2004, when we first heard him do his d*mn thing as part of Animal Collective on Sung Tongs. We have continually re-certified his King Status over the years, as he started dropping slapper solo LP after slapper solo LP, singing on great Daft Punk tracks, crushing “My Girls” live, and somehow NEVER MISSING.
When we play a Panda Bear joint at Spyplane H.Q., which we do all the time, we know that his trippy combination of experimental electronic impulses with sweet pop harmonies will always fascinate and delight us 😤😤😤 !! (Some of our favorite tracks are “Mr. Noah,” “Boys Latin,” “Slow Motion,” “Take Pills,” “Dolphin,” “Bros,” “Comfy in Nautica” and “Master,” but you can also just toss on the albums and let them cook in toto, baby.)
Last week Noah put out a fantastic new album with his friend Sonic Boom, a.k.a. Pete Kember, of the legendary psych-rock band Spacemen 3. (Pete’s also put out music as E.A.R. and produced one of the dopest Beach House albums, 7.) It’s called Reset, and it’s built around a deceptively simple concept that required TRUE GIFTS & VISION to execute: For each track, they sampled and looped the opening chords of a different ‘60s rock record, freaking it into a new chune.
Case in point, the excellent Troggs-flipping “Go On,” whose video is the coolest animated clip we’ve seen in a while (second only to “Cash In Cash Out”):
The other day we hopped on the Spyphone with Noah & Pete in Portugal, where they live & where they made the new album. We talked about music that blends uplift & chaos, Lisbon hotspots, Space Age plastic design gems whose whimsical beauty coexists with their ruinous ecological toll, and how it is mad cool — not goofy, no matter what anyone tells you — to wear a pro-sports jersey with your name on it.
Blackbird Spyplane: I love how the album turned out — there’s so much character in the samples, so the music feels lush & bright but it also has this hypnotic, droning quality…
Panda Bear: “It started with Pete sending me about 30 or 40 loops — there was a lot to choose from. Whichever ones sparked me up immediately, where I had an idea right away, I’d start working on that, within about a day I’d whip out a rough sketch and send it to Pete to see what he thought. We started during lockdown, and working on music really took my mind off the chaos outside.”
Sonic Boom: “I had this realization that there were some records where, even though the intro wasn’t what the song was about, just the intro chords themselves had a lot of power to them. A lot of them were recorded by really great musicians and session dudes and they’re slick. There’s a reason they were hits.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Taking a short loop and layering new ideas on top of it, pushing it into new contexts — that’s a songwriting approach you’ll see in old dub reggae and of course in hip-hop, but it’s rare in quote-unquote indie music…
Sonic Boom: “I find that era of Jamaican music to be incredibly uplifting, and, as with Noah’s songs, when you actually listen to what the lyrics are about, it’s not happy-go-lucky stuff. It’s about tough s**t that people are dealing with. But it has this positive glow.”
Blackbird Spyplane: You both live in Lisbon — Noah since 2004, Pete for the past 6 years. I haven’t been there, but the sense I get is that it’s full of young ppl doing cool s**t and old people out by the ocean eating sardines and cheese & drinking wine all day until they die at age 105. Please tell Spy Nation about some of yr favorite spots in town…
Sonic Boom: “There’s a place that’s a bit of a tourist magnet, but for good reason, called Pavilhão Chinês — it’s a cocktail bar that doubles as a curiosity cabinet, this exquisite collection of unusual things. We actually filmed part of the Beach House video for ‘Drunk in L.A.’ there.”
Panda Bear: “I’d suggest this beach about 30 minutes south of Lisbon called Fonte da Telha. Going there in like October is great, when there’s nobody but you and a couple surfers.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Noah, you grew up in Baltimore, and when I asked you for a picture of a rare & cherished possession you sent along this personalized LENNOX Wizards jersey… I think we might be on the verge of a major jersey resurgence. What’s the story with this one?
Panda Bear: “I don’t own a lot of things I care about, really, but this is one. I’m a big basketball fan, I love going to games, I used to play in high school, and I’ve been a Wizards fan since I was young. I got super into them when I moved here, though, so I’ve spent basically the last 20 years really following the team — there’s been not a whole lot of ups, but a lot of downs. I hadn’t thought about it, but maybe getting so into them when I moved here was a way of trying to hold on to what I’d left behind in the States.”
Blackbird Spyplane: It’s sick that it’s personalized. How did you get it?
Panda Bear: “I think a friend of mine knew somebody at the organization — my friend Rich, who used to manage Animal Collective, we went to a lot of games together, and he got it for me as a gift. I kind of wish it wasn’t personalized, though. I feel kind of corny with my name on it. I used to play at the courts near my house and I never wore it. It felt too goofy.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Goofy?? H*ll no, we have a major disagreement here — playing a pick-up game in the neighborhood in a pro sports jersey with yr name on it is 100% cool & funny. You could rock it on stage too…
Panda Bear: “Ha ha, no, I can’t pull that off. So it basically lives in a drawer — but I love it.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Pete, you sent over some very vibey Space Age plastic design objects … canisters & caddies & dishes, and some purely decorative pieces. You collect these?
Sonic Boom: “Yeah, I started collecting before the days of eBay, when it was just about what you came across: When I stumbled on something and I could afford it, I’d buy it. What I love about these is the simple alphabet they use — the minimal, geometric alphabet of shapes.
“I find them pleasing, but it’s turned into a real love-hate thing, where I love plastic and what you can achieve with it, but the problems we have now with petrochemical plastics are massive, and really worrying. The amount of food packaging I take to the recycling every week alone is mind-numbing, and the absorption of plastic into our bodies from all this food — we absorb pounds of plastic polycarbons over years. And when you buy a plastic chair for your house, it leaches toxic chemicals for decades.
“So, yeah, having this bright colorful stuff is awesome, but losing something like 75 percent of our insects and ocean life in last 20 years, species-wide, is obviously not worth it.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Which is true of so many consumer goods, but there’s a particular toll with plastic. Which is why the current PVC / injection-molded / plastic-shoe trend is double-edged, too. As far as vintage Space Age stuff, who do you look for & where do you look?
Sonic Boom: “Ebay Italy is really the place, because the Italians have a massive plastics industry. Pre-Memphis, Ettore Sottsass was doing this stuff. There’s a Japanese guy I really like, Makio Hasuike, who did things for an Italian plastics company called Gedy. And Verner Panton — that famous dripping-looking chair he made (below left), I think that might be the first chair made all from one piece of plastic, designed to be injection-molded.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Panton was the man, we found a few of his enamel Flowerpot pendant lights vintage from Denmark for a steal a few years back and they hang here at HQ … his early ‘90s particleboard IKEA chairs (bottom right above) are so great, too, but they’re way too $$$ these days.
Sonic Boom: “He might be the godfather of the whole Space Age thing — the first person who really kicked it into gear. He kept reinventing himself, in the most awesome ways.”
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P🏀E🏀A🏀C🏀E🏀 — Jonah & Erin