o compare Panda Bear’s Young Prayer to the Paw Tracks catalog would be difficult. Touching on Animal Collective’s penchant for the drone-folk of Here Comes the Indian or the trip-pop of Sung Tongs, Panda Bear follows the tics of these albums and burrows deeper into the barebones, into the vast space that these aforementioned albums could only imply. Young Prayer doesn’t cry or cheer for your attention like Panda Bear’s work with Animal Collective. Instead, he achieves the opposite effect—a trance-inducing meditation.
Made in 2002 after the death of Panda Bear’s father, the nine untitled-tracks, 39 minute album follows the kaleidoscope of emotion embedded in such an event. Death speaks not only for remembrance of one’s life, but also for the bleeding emotions that are found in a person’s absence. From the aching moans of the first song, Young Prayer plays to a hope of reconciliation of these emotions, found in its destabilization of voice and guitar.
Though voice and guitar are present throughout Young Prayer, melody is strangely vacant as the album’s driving force—instead, the album finds greater affinity with “repetition as change” minimalism. Through this, Young Prayer sounds alive and searching, like the work slowly etching itself out over the course of the record. This tragic search is alluded to in the albums only discernible lyrics “This is how I speak to you / This is how you will know me.”
As a search, there’s almost no sense of relief or unwarranted anguish on the album. Instead, the songs explore lost fragments of expression, never staying too clear-cut as merely melancholic or content. The expressions are dirty, and don’t attempt to express any sort of easily classifiable emotions. This also extends from the album’s tape hiss to the hollowed guitar to half-sung words, phrases and lyrics in a manner that gives each sound the power of incompleteness. This power finds the sublime in the round of handclaps and chants of Untitled Five. In the song’s repetition, the chant’s expression changes so that with each incantation the sound of the chant wobbles between assertive to lost.
Modulating between a repressed or boiling tenor to out-of-reach falsettos, Panda Bear also shares an affinity with Can’s Damo Suzuki. Like Suzuki, his ability to force concentration on every note and still build a structure from these particular moments sound like a push to stop time entirely. The emotive cries are less traced by time and achieve power in their shifts in state. What results is an achingly brutal intensity given to each broken phrase, scream and sigh. An intensity that is reverberated through the cathedral expanses of Untitled 7 and hushed breathes of Untitled 8.
This is most fully formed on Untitled 4, where the song’s absences are as strikingly poignant as Panda Bear’s loudest builds. The song doesn’t so much develop, as form a breadth of dynamics—each extension of Panda Bear’s voice is defined by its immediate counterpoint. The song’s guitar strumming is off-kilter, arrhythmic in loudness and eventually becomes waves of sound rather than rhythms. The fluctuation of these waves results in a song that sounds out of breath and breathing.
While it would be easy to call this album religious, given its genesis in death and the title of Young Prayer, I would hesitate to provide such a label. The album sounds like a work still formulating, still changing in a manner that couldn’t be said of any particular religion. Instead, Panda Bear’s searches on Young Prayer are strikingly honest and sound like they could extend time forever.
Reviewed by: Nate De Young
Reviewed on: 2004-10-07