Ever since his proper debut, 2004ís mostly forgotten (but still quite good) Young Prayer, Noah Lennoxís solo work has followed relatively narrow parameters. Where his first record was acoustic and much of it was recorded live in a room, his music since has mostly consisted of him singing over loops, constructing songs from other songs. The fact that the backing tracks mostly consist of processed samples gives Lennox a wide palette to work with, and heís able to keep his music varied by how he approaches texture and arrangement. Heís also good at making music in this format, no question. But there are limitations to the approach, in terms of dynamics and song structureóthe amount of empty space and variations in terms of volume are kept to a minimum, and when Lennoxís melodies are less engaging, his songs tend to bleed together.
Melody was decidedly not a problem on Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaperóin fact, it was the most tuneful Panda Bear album, filled with songs that felt familiar because they sounded like classics that somehow also managed to be surprising. But the Crosswords EP, consisting of one song from Grim Reaper remixed, an updated version of a bonus track from 2012's Tomboy, and three songs from the Grim Reaper sessions that didnít make the cut, isnít up to the same standard. Itís reasonably pretty and itís always welcome to hear new material in this style, but songs like "No Manís Land" and "Jabberwocky" donít stand out in a catalog that is by now pretty extensive; thereís never a moment where you stop breathing for a second to zero in on the way Lennox skips up an interval, no tunes that wonít leave your head. These are solid and enjoyable tracks in Panda Bearís style, and hearing them here, untethered from an album that has more of an arc, they never become much more than that.
When working as Panda Bear, Lennox essentially makes comfort-food music, songs that come off as gentle and created with care that bring warm feelings, so it feels wrong to use the word "comfortable" in a pejorative sense when discussing his work. But the five songs on the Crosswords EP sound like tracks that come easily to him, songs he knows how to make without stretching himself. The most distinctive is the closer "Cosplay" whose lyrics, oddly enough, mostly consist of Lennox singing variations of "Marijuana makes my day." Live versions of it floated around last year, and itís been stripped of some of its initial samples but still retains an appealing bubbly texture. Even though the words are goofy and obvious (has any Panda Bear fan ever thought otherwise?), itís the one place where the album stops being good background music and makes you take notice.
item # 40368