Smile Politely

Listing to Music: Comfy in Kalamazoo

Improbably still, the lake rests contentedly as a sheet of glass. A summer by the lake brings feelings of softness and relaxation. Michigan is home to this eponymous lake, as well as one of the Midwest’s finest breweries. Bell’s is known primarily for Oberon, its velvety summer wheat concoction. The versatile Kalamazoo brewery crafts beers as varied as any conscious beer drinker’s palette. Puffy-clouded summer days call for a puffy, slightly cloudy Oberon. Winter’s chill might sway a drinker toward the warming Java Stout.

But those searching for Bell’s don’t have to travel to Michigan anymore, the Kalamazoo brewery recently reached an agreement with a couple of Illinois distribution companies to start bringing Bell’s to the masses in Chicago (and hopefully the Champaign-Urbana market soon), a year and a half after the fued that curbed Bell’s sales in Illinois.

Today though, the sun hides behind a thin curtain of gray in Michigan. But the sun has been out today, heating the water, sand and whomever lounged upon it. Now it lights the velvety brilliance of a cloudy sunset. A distant boat’s bell clangs in rhythm with the narcotic lapping of waves.

A voice, perhaps emanating from this boat, “tr[ies] to remember always…just to have a good time” Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear embraces the sounds of nautical repetition. Lennox, then strays off the paths he has created into a darker state of personal reflection.

A lone fish swims across the label of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. Located within is a shimmering orange liquid. Scents of orange peels and Michigan peaches emerge from the bottle, even before pouring it into a glass (essential to any Bell’s brew). The first sip has a citrus zing.

Lennox sings of this summer feeling during the album Person Pitch’s last song, “Ponytail.” “When my soul starts growing, I get so hungry and I wish it never would stop growing.” But surely, spiritual growth requires some somber times spent brooding in a faraway place. This album was recorded in Lisbon, Portugal, probably far from Lennox’s family and loved ones. While there, he stumbled upon gray-tinged memories and notions. But his bustling, sample-heavy swells of music portray them in a sunny, sometimes bouncy way.

The first Bell’s began as a light-hearted affair. Somewhere during “Comfy in Nautica,” when Lennox is trying to remember how to have a good time, a tinge of arugula from the brew turns the tongue. Two Hearted is certainly beginning to justify its name. The vibrance of its orange hides a darker, bitter resonance. This same phenomenon emerges slowly through the course of Person Pitch. Lilting breezes of sound give way to pulsing, poppy bursts of sing-songy declarations.

Lennox conjurs his mother during “Take Pills.” “All her children left the house and left her all alone, but just like she’d tell me, ‘Things get better just wait and you’ll see.’” This song’s lurching beginning, turns the stereo speakers into nothing more than buoys floating in the current, recording drab water’s sound. But as mother said, things can reach a bouncier, almost calypso-like buoyancy. “Search for Delicious,” the album’s most ethereal abstract piece, also embodies this contrast. The sounds of shrill seagulls give way to a distorted voice that “wonders what its like to be on fire, so hot.” Thematically dark, the song floats through the room on a sweet sonic raft.

Noah Lennox has struck a rich balance between dark and light on Person Pitch. His sounds soothe, but the sometimes-imperceptible lyrics can be sanguine and lonely. Bell’s Two Hearted Ale evokes the sweetness of a summer day, but does not hide its darker, hoppy punch. While refreshing, it is a bit unassuming. The slightly high seven percent ABV may sink a bouncy beach dweller’s joy. Similarly, those looking for a carefree summer romp may be bogged down by Panda Bear’s deeper spiritual quest hiding within the record’s warm grooves.

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