Panda Bear's Tomboy Listening Party: Like Watching Never Say Never 3D All Over Again, Sort Of

Panda Bear's Tomboy Listening Party: Like Watching Never Say Never 3D All Over Again, Sort Of

Panda Bear Listening Party for Tomboy Le Poisson Rouge Wednesday, Feb 16

Better than: Billy Ray Cyrus discovering that Hannah Montana was just a figment of his imagination.

Panda Bear fans are the Justin Bieber fans of the indie universe. While "Beliebers" attended the star's movie Never Say Never 3D screaming, swooning, and singing, Panda Bear lovers turned up at Le Poisson Rouge last night, praying, meditating, and spiritually levitating to a listening session of their cooing leader's upcoming album Tomboy. Panda Bear and Justin Bieber arguably sing in the same key; their supporters know all the lyrics -- even from unreleased songs -- and hang out on forums to discuss bootlegs, live shows, and rumors. The only difference is that Panda Bear's fans are 75% post-pubescent male.

"Do you think he's going to be there?" someone asks me while waiting in line, a few others' eyes widening at the suggestion. After I give a definitive, "No," we are released into the cavernous, goldfish-deifying Le Poisson Rouge, where we crowd around the bar and sit like Buddhas. The first track, "You Can Count on Me" start up. This one sounds like Panda Bear shouting into a cave with the boom boom clap of "We Will Rock You" playing over him, but warped and out of time. The congregation approves. One couple, for example, sits cross-legged with their eyes shut, holding each other's hands on one side, clutching a can of Rolling Rock on the other. They drink only when the song is over.

With the exception of "Surfer's Hymn," previously released tracks "Tomboy," "Slow Motion" and "Last Night at the Jetty" play through. "Wow, he made 'Tomboy' way better!" I shout to the guy next to me. He nods. The song has been fleshed out, glazing over the track's ominous oomph with an airy synthesizer. The best track, though, is "Surfer's Hymn," a delicate mix of crashing waves and flurries of chime and steel drum pitter-patter. Panda Bear's soaring castrati vocals resonate like a church chorus throughout all the tracks, but they're especially tender here. It makes me think about how lonely surfing must be on a rainy day. "That's the best track," I tell the guy from earlier, who I later discover is "zaltakid2000" on Animal Collective fan forum Collected Animals. "Nah, something's missing," he reveals. "The live take sounded better."

In retrospect, Panda Bear was certainly right about his record. Last September he told us, "I think on Tomboy there's something really serious and almost heavy-handed, which I'm not crazy about. But serious in kind of like a sacred way." This idea best applies to the second half of the album. "Drone" and "Scheherazade," for instance, sound like Justin Bieber slowed down 800 times without altering the pitch -- startlingly majestic, sprawling, and, of course, sacred. But the real winner is "Afterburner," featuring triumphant pipe percussion and Panda Bear's amorphous, unintelligible swoon. This is the song where everyone looks around, setting off a wave of smiles. I make eye contact with one dude who I soon discover to be "harvestmoon" from the Collected Animals forum. "Yeahhhhhh," he mouths proudly, as if communicating to me that he'd just been laid.

Critical Bias: I've tried playing Panda Bear in the car with my mom.

Overheard: "This has got be one of the top five albums of the year. Radiohead better watch out."

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