Apr 06, 2011, 06:26AM

Panda Bear's Sad-Eyed Vertigo Brilliance

"I know. I know. I know?"

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A close friend is fond of using the phrase “I’m in a spin” to convey a sense of personal upheaval, of various forces beyond her control conspiring to induce a state of mental or emotional chaos. The varied connotations of that saying appeal to me, the suggestion of revolving, of turning, of hanging on tightly to something solid while the world whirls unaccountably around; two years ago, I appropriated it to title a short piece that appeared in Crucial Sprawl, my second book of poetry. It puts me in mind of generator gears, turntables, wheels, those bolted-to-the-ground steel merry-go-round things one finds at some playgrounds, rotating game-show displays where bleached-blonde women wearing impractical dresses present things that game-show contestants might win, and astronauts-in-training undergoing synapse-frying G-force conditioning.

There’s a lot to like about “Last Night At The Jetty,” from Panda Bear’s forthcoming Tomboy: the tick-tick-BOOM percussion, the watery synthesized hook, the wide-throated vocals, the insistently circular forward motion, the overall air of resigned halcyon exhaustion. What I appreciate most about the song, though, is how perfectly its vertigo-afflicted headspace mirrors my own, the flailing, dizzied attempts to articulate the inability to accurately articulate something because there are too many factors to take into account, and the accrual of factors doesn’t abate; it’s like the “Pebbles & Marbles” of freak-folk, except that “Pebbles & Marbles” is less likely to make you question your own sense of balance.

At its core, “Jetty” is about the difficulties inherent in boarding, helming, and seeing through to destination a train of thought; it’s about attempting to define one’s self when self-definition is all but impossible to square, when perception proves destructively subjective all of a sudden. About bearing so much that things begin to fall out of your arms, things you didn’t even know you were still carrying around.

The “I know” chorus and “Didn’t I/we” refrain acquire added dimensions depending on the listener’s own mythology and degree of world-weary befuddlement: what do you know, and when did you know it? Didn’t I? Didn’t we? Saying “I want to enjoy what’s meant to employ” is a tacit admission that you don’t always dig your job, but at the same time, saying that—or singing along knowingly—is a way of acknowledging that you’ve embraced adulthood, that you’ve ascended, that you’re crumbling.

You fumble for names, for scenarios. You cannot remember whether you had fun at that time at that place with those people, or even exactly who was there, or what happened, because at some point in time—it’s difficult to identify when, exactly—the world around you began to slowly move. To spin, ever-so-slowly at first, and faster with every passing year, never to slow, never to stop.


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