On 'Reset,' Panda Bear and Sonic Boom Map New Paths with Old Sounds

BY Matthew RitchiePublished Aug 9, 2022

For over 20 years, Noah Lennox (a.k.a. Panda Bear) has been known primarily for his work with experimental indie act Animal Collective, anchoring the group with his sunshine pop melodies, watery synths, and minimalist percussion.

But for roughly a decade, his most influential music has come in collaboration with Pete Kember (a.k.a. Sonic Boom) — the former member of Spacemen 3, offshoots Spectrum and E.A.R., and producer behind some of Beach House, MGMT, and Iceage's best albums.

The pair first connected when Kember, wanting to show his gratitude after discovering that Spacemen 3 were name-checked as an influence in the liner notes to Panda Bear's solo 2007 breakout Person Pitch, reached out to the artist over Myspace. The two became pals and stayed in touch, with Lennox recruiting Kember to mix 2011's Tomboy and later produce 2015's Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper.

According to Lennox, working together taught him a lot, not only about attention to detail but how to distill a piece of music down to its essential elements — a hallmark of the Spacemen 3 Sound. It was those trips to Lennox's home studio in Portugal that convinced Kember, a longtime resident of Rugby, England, to escape to the continent and move to Sintra—a fairytale-like town on the outskirts of Lisbon, whose lush gardens and dramatic topography inspired Sonic Boom's 2020 comeback, All Things Being Equal.

Two years later, the pandemic hit, and Kember began revisiting his collection of classic 45s. Hearing the songs with fresh ears, he discovered that many had intros that were practically begging to be sampled.

Those one-to-two-second loops form the foundation of Reset, a nine-track album whose sunny disposition, sleigh bells, and handclaps belie its dark-yet-uplifting undertone. Taking inspiration — both spiritually and musically—from Jamaican ska, rocksteady, and doo-wop, Reset finds Lennox and Kember trading turns at the mic, singing about dead dudes and impending disaster, searching for answers while drowning in the undertow.

"Everything's been leading to this / Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes," the pair sing together on the album's final track, evoking the cynical predeterminism that has probably dotted many people's thoughts throughout the global pandemic. But like much of Reset, the song is soundtracked by sparkling synths that swirl, sway, and seem to orbit in space and childlike percussion that drives each song forward toward its inevitable conclusion.

It's the samples in particular, though, that give Reset a sort of whimsical timelessness. Most of them originate from the late '50s and early '60s. Unless you're of retirement age, it's likely you've only heard snippets of these songs from the Troggs (album standout "Go On"), Everly Brothers ("Danger"), Eddie Cochran ("Gettin' to the Point"), and Randy and the Rainbows ("Edge of the Edge") in passing. They're hard to place, despite appearing practically unadulterated. Still, there's a familiarity to each song that's strangely comforting, even as the pair plumb the morass.

Like much of Panda Bear and Sonic Boom's best work, Reset is disorienting — an album of songs that feels cyclical and never-ending. But then again, so do the times we live in.

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