Panda Bear's 'Crosswords' EP, Reviewed

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Like his other albums, Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper had a lot of big statements if you're willing to wrestle with it. Pinning it down is part of the appeal for fans, and it can feel like true immersion to venture into his soundscapes and puzzle out what he's saying about death. So where does that leave a surprise EP? Crosswords, as a collection of loose leaves, doesn't have the weight of Grim Reaper but that also means it doesn't have the pressure. Crosswords is something you can just consume without trying to wring every inch of intent out of it.

“Crosswords” was one of the highlights of Grim Reaper. The new EP mix is a minor but effective tweak – a lot of the elements that may sound new on the EP version are actually still present in the original, just mixed toward the front. Most notably, the vocoder-like undercurrent of the original song is scrubbed in favor of louder rainforest chirps and shakers. The result is a slightly more lively atmosphere, one that plays up its evergreen bouncy rhythm. It's easy to imagine Noah Lennox going back and forth on which version to put on the album.

There are 4 other songs that fill out the EP. One of these is “The Preakness”, which is a rework of a track that first surfaced in 2011 as a Tomboy bonus. It's a bonus once again, but the difference here is like night and day; it was once lethargic and dazed, but 4 years later it's become a relentless rising action, introduced by a warped harpsichord arpeggio and encompassing the moods of panicked hell and orgasmic heaven. It's a feat that casts off any familiarity you may have with the original

A lot of the EP consists of heavy-beating rhythmic stompers, like “No Mans Land” and “Jabberwocky”,  both of which boast muscular beats over his trademark warm and glowing chords. You can reason why they might seem out of place on Grim Reaper. The rhythms are almost oppressive in their relentless punching. They're less about making you bob your head and more about beating your head with a cricket bat, only stopping so you can soak in the concussion. I say this in the most whimsical way possible. “Jabberwocky” in particular is a fascinating, constantly morphing animal. Rattles oscillate into reverberating synth and back into rattles, an element that can hook your concentration until the song's end.

Closing track “Cosplay” feels like the most lyrically inconsequential song, maybe because it comes off as a stoner throwaway whose only passage is “marijuana makes my day.” It suggests crickets at night, deep lunar skies, and sinking into the cosmos. Put another way: relaxing. It's nice just to melt into the high. B MINUS