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Downy Drummers 

Soft Circle and Panda Bear embrace a new age of folksy experimentalism

Wednesday, Mar 28 2007
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The Brooklyn experimental rock scene has birthed extraordinary artists as of late, but two of the burg's most recent releases are signaling a sea change. Soft Circle and Panda Bear offer laid-back, reflective solo projects from drummers who sound to be both mellowing and innovating with age.

The title for former Black Dice kit basher and Lightning Bolt-er Hisham Bharoocha's new solo project is damn appropriate. Making a clean break from his noise-rock past, Bharoocha's Soft Circle dives into melodic drones laced with tribal drumming, electronics, and tambura, resulting in blissed out, New Age-tinged soundscapes. The musician claims to have taken up Vipassana meditation, and perhaps his ascent into committed introspection has propelled these trippy transcendental jams. But one has to also believe that Bharoocha's leaving abrasive sound-tweakers Black Dice, after a six-year tenure, has allowed him the freedom to move toward a nuanced, trance-inducing output. His debut under this moniker, Full Bloom, tests out a variety of beats with his plaintive vocal moans layered into the mix. "Shimmer" is the standout track here, a seven-minute electronic groove of underwater riffs and throbbing fragments of rhythmic noise, while "Moon Oar Sunrise" builds from fuzzy guitar tones into a climactic wail. Has Bharoocha found god? Is he looking for enlightenment? It's not clear, but the blossoms on Full Bloom resonate with pensive beauty.

Another release hailing this calming shift is Panda Bear's stunning new disc Person Pitch. The album is largely a collection of singles former Brooklyn resident Noah Lennox has circulated over the past two years. In this time, Lennox has married, toured the globe as the drummer for Animal Collective, moved to Lisbon, and fathered a child — and one can instantly hear the effects of these grand life-alterations on his work. A mature move forward from 2004's acoustic eulogy Young Prayer, Person Pitch is an electronic burst of "Good Girl(s)" and "Ponytail(s)", a mélange of childbirth references and pop experimentalism. In juxtaposition to Soft Circle's introspection, Lennox has tapped inspiration from '60s pop music, microhouse dance beats, and even the relaxed atmosphere of Lisbon. He trades in the euphoric Animal Collective freakouts to instead meander within psychedelic reverb, spreading a warm aesthetic that oscillates between the drum-heavy, dub confections of "Bros" and "Good Girl/ Carrots," and the challenging ambient murmurs of "Take Pills." The manic dynamics and sharper angles of Animal Collective are distant in Panda Bear's fuzzy focus, and Lennox seems contented to wire his solo songs to a softer, albeit exquisitely textured, plane.

Soft Circle's spacey ramblings and Panda Bear's simmering glee examine concepts of thoughtful musical experimentation at the micro-level. Soft Circle's mantra-tones, chanting vocals, and hypnotizing qualities induce a sort of sonic spirituality not found in his past catalogue. And Panda Bear's journey between mid-tempo, ecstatic dance numbers and ambient dronescapes offers up a visionary juxtaposition to AC's Hollinndagain and Feels. Compared to the harsh attack of Black Dice and the primal fanaticism of Animal Collective, Hisham Bharoocha and Noah Lennox offer the ultimate transformation — finding free expression within the solo confines of being oh-so quiet.

About The Author

Mike Munz

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