Meandering, low-key sketches.
Noah Lennox doesn’t hide his best songs. Whereas Noah and his collaborators in Animal Collective often toss away their best songs as B-sides or tracks on stopgap EP releases between albums, his work as Panda Bear doesn’t ask for that same level of devotion. If one gets a Panda Bear EP, one can assume that it doesn’t contain Lennox’s best work and is at best an interesting diversion. (The oddball Crossword EP from 2015 fits this description.) Perhaps that’s why the songs on A Day with the Homies exist as they do, available only on vinyl for the sorts of fans willing to follow Lennox down whatever reasonably-priced rabbit hole they would like to go down. Then again, it could be the case that Lennox didn’t rate this collection of songs all that highly to begin with.
A Day with the Homies doesn’t contain proper songs so much as meandering, low-key sketches. In that sense, the EP is closer in character to 2011’s Tomboy than to the straightforwardness of Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper or the sample-heavy bliss of Person Pitch. However, one shouldn’t expect the dour unease of Tomboy here; Lennox sounds buoyant at times on A Day with the Homies, full of energy and excitement. Yet, that ebullience disguises a darker undercurrent. Opener “Flight” and its bouncy vocals conjure even more of the Beach Boys comparisons that have dogged Lennox’s work as Panda Bear, but his lyrics sing of leaving behind a group of friends (“the good crew”) who don’t seem like the most upstanding group of people. It’s shortly followed by “Part of the Math,” a meditation on mortality and the random nature of life and death that hints at its brooding nature with a drawn-out intro featuring a squealing guitar chord dragged to its limits. Lyrically, Lennox has always tried to keep conflict at bay, but it seems to be the central theme of A Day with the Homies.
Unfortunately, Lennox’s soundscapes make the EP feel far less dense than it should, given its lyrical content. Very little of A Day with the Homies feels genuinely boundary-pushing in the way that the best Panda Bear material can be. More worryingly, the whole affair has a sense of familiarity to it, as if we’re being treated to the greatest hits of Panda Bear. The reverberating loneliness of Tomboy maintains a presence throughout, but the mangled samples recall both the celebratory nature of Person Pitch and his songs on Merriweather Post Pavilion. Nothing feels truly new, and what’s here is assembled in a way that seems intentionally dizzying at some moments and careless at others. It feels as if there’s a statement to be made with the music on this EP, but Lennox is determined not to let that message come across.
A Day with the Homies remains a confusing proposition even after a few listens. Is it a haphazard-yet-promising collection of tunes that just needed a bit more time and care to become something more cohesive and rewarding? Is it just detritus, leftovers that Noah Lennox felt compelled to release even though he didn’t rate them all that highly? It’s hard to tell now, but the intentional limits placed on its release give the record an aura of mystery and expectation that it can only occasionally live up to.