Tuesday, December 8, 2009
#24. 'I'm not trying to forget you, I'd just like to be alone'
Panda Bear "Bro's"
A song like "Bro's" could never be a single in the mainstream sense of the term. There's no way that Noah Lennox' opus could be reduced to a bite-sized, top 40 ready edit and still retain a fraction of the power that the song possesses in its full glory. Even the best producers in the world couldn't condense the 12:38 behemoth that was released back in 2006 into a concise 4-minute nugget while giving an accurate picture of what the song is all about. It needs the room to breathe that most of the stuff we think of as singles aren't afforded the luxury of, otherwise it's a shell of itself that can't match up to the power the full version has. The reason that I'll go to bat for longer singles over shorter ones is that there's plenty that you can do in 10 minutes that you can't in 3 unless you have godlike powers of songwriting and production. It's nigh on impossible to condense the sort of hypnotic thrall that something like "Bro's" can deliver given its longform state, and luckily for us it's not like Panda Bear or his label was interested in getting anything but Pitchfork's undying praise so it wasn't cut down for the singles market. Does that give it an unfair advantage over songs that do have those label-mandated parameters enforced upon them? Maybe, but if it weren't a damn good song irregardless of length I doubt I'd think of it more highly than any of the upper tier songs on this list.
'Hypnotic' is the watchword here. "Bro's" is basically two six-minute songs anchored by their own specific guitar patterns that loop over their respective part while Lennox throws some other sounds over them, each pattern repeating so often that you might call them mind numbing. I don't see them that way of course, the use of these infinitely recurring motifs to anchor the song gives it an odd sort of insidiousness. It's repetition in the extreme, each riff looping and looping and lopping until it goes beyond simple catchiness and becomes a part of your subconscious in a way. It might cross over into annoyance for some of you but as far as I'm concerned it isn't the patterns themselves that hold much of the "Bro's" mystique so much as they're the canvas over which Lennox is laying his more potent hooks and ideas. They're the parts that you'll remember after hearing the song once, sure, but it's the stuff that they provide the groundwork for that got "Bro's" this high up the list. Stuff like the mantraic chanting that gets folded into the fabric of the second section, the chiming guitar that comes through during the chorus in the first part, the bass line that winds up drawing the focus off the main pattern for the last two beats of each measure. The little touches that don't jump out until the main repeated pattern fades form view . The song itself is pretty densely arranges all told, but without the hypnotic sway generated by those base patterns it wouldn't work half as well.
There's also the juxtaposition of emotions at its core. The music comes off as a Beach Boys homage, summery acoustic guitars and lush arrangements, while Lennox' vocals and lyrics paint a much more depressing picture. That kind of emotional dissonance is what pushed "Bro's" up so high on this list to be honest, the contrast between the unambiguously happy sounding music and Lennox' sad-sack vocals just works for me. It's another thing that initially got obscured by the hypnotic lull of it all, but even in that state it never struck me as being all that content at its core. Once the fundamental sadness set in though the song made that much more sense to me. It also made all the talk about it being a Beach Boys tribute/rip off all the more reasonable since at their best the Beach Boys were masters at that sort of thing (I'm thinking about "In My Room" more than anything else here, probably the most immediate precedent to "Bro's" in the BB catalog as far as tone goes).
But does all that justify the length of it? Given it's placement here you can tell where I stand on the issue, but on a purely objective level it should seem much more boring than it is. The hypnotic effects of it only explain so much truth be told, ans if there weren't a fundamentally great tune at the heart of it I doubt it would work at any length. As it stands I sometimes think it ends too soon, and that's the sort of thing that I look for in my top singles of the decade.