When Animal Collective started playing their formative shows in New York around 2000, Panda Bear was the band's drummer — and not merely a drummer, but a savage drummer, one known for his ability to make a mad racket with lots of metronomic tapping and slapdash syncopation. Little in his work in the past few years has offered evidence of this past, but knowledge of Panda Bear's roots as a percussionist sheds a bit of light on both his increasingly commanding songs for Animal Collective and, especially, his solo work. With 2007's Person Pitch, his own reputation threatened to overshadow that of his band, so rich were that album's patterns — of repeating samples, bleary vocal moans and melodies both melancholy and bright. There is a crosscutting, almost quilt-like, aspect to his songs that make them unusually approachable for music so abstract.
Tomboy both tightens and expands that percussionist's sense of pattern-recognition, to equally mesmerizing and even-more accessible effect. The results, as ever, evoke psychedelic notions of church, the Beach Boys and someone humming in the shower oblivious to the idea that there's someone just outside the curtain, listening. "You Can Count on Me" starts the album off with what sounds like a chorus of singing Panda Bears, soaked in reverb and little else. But the title track, which follows, shifts into something more like a conventional rock song, with surfy guitar and a sturdy sense of momentum, as well as some ominous keyboard courtesy of Sonic Boom — aka Peter Kember — from Spectrum and Spacemen 3. Boom's contributions, mostly subtle but always slightly dark, go a long way toward adding pathos any time Panda Bear starts sounding a little too wide-eyed and guileless to believe. Other times, as on the transfixing and outsized epic "Alsatian Darn" and the stirringly spare "Scheherzade," you surrender willingly to the moans and prayers pouring from Panda Bear's lips.