One can never really fault Noah Lennox’s desire to produce music that, at least in his own eyes, isn’t just forward-thinking and experimental, but recognisably distinct from other strains of the contemporary alternative scene. There’s also no denying the importance and influence of Lennox’s past work as a crucial member of Animal Collective throughout their most consequential years, and having produced critically acclaimed albums under his own Panda Bear moniker (2007’s seminal Person Pitch clearly sitting top of the bunch). Now he holes himself away in Portugal, having reached a status of being able to produce pretty much whatever he pleases, whenever he wants to produce it.

However, while Lennox’s reputation sees a sort of indie-god red carpet roll out before him on every release cycle, in truth neither he nor Animal Collective have produced a notable record in years. Lennox’s work not only hasn’t been within touching distance of the quality seen on his best work, but has suffered a steady decline on every release, seeing his unsettled, erratic, sample-based oddity descend toward a supposedly hip-hop-influenced, washed-out and altogether more predictable sound. The nadir now arrives with the mostly unlistenable Buoys.

What has previously been a steady but inoffensive deterioration in Lennox’s music has now slid to (what one can only hope is) the bottom of the trough. No track here could be accused of attempting to engage with either the audience or work with recent exciting stylistic developments in alternative music. Dominated by a supposedly futuristic sub-bass sound and plunged into an aquatic aesthetic, the tracks on Buoys don’t just sound near-identical but can be plainly impossible to distinguish between. ‘Cranked’, ‘I Know I Don’t Know’ and ‘Home Free’ all attempt a very similar mix of undulating guitar strums resting on throbbing, unimpactful sub-bass; while tracks like ‘Master’ and ‘Inner Monologue’ only set themselves apart by way of wince-worthy autotune. These washed-out acoustic cuts feel somewhat like distant descendants of the textures of Sung Tongs and Feels, but on Buoys the production makes them feel less organic and hypnotic, and more sparse and hollow.

The underwater theme so decisively implemented throughout Buoys doesn’t so much scream “modernist” as much as it suggests a covering-up of supremely mediocre songwriting and severe creative shortfalls. This is never more obvious than in the album’s vocals. The aforementioned ‘Inner Monologue’ is the worst offender, seeing Lennox perform a mundane conversation with himself over a sample of a woman sobbing – all in all a pretty contrived and meaningless endeavour- yet the forgettable ambiguity of ‘Dolphin’ isn’t far behind. One would feel that the presence of Person Pitch producer of Rusty Santos should have checked the extent of Lennox’s artistic freedom on Buoys, but instead the vocals, both in lyrical substance and in the effects imposed on them, are as tedious and one-dimensional as the instrumentals.

Faint smatterings of the old Panda Bear still occasionally litter Buoys. ‘Token’ is the record’s standout number with its spectral, interestingly-mixed guitars and a bridge that feels like it’s building to something (even if it never quite gets there); while the punctuating noisy pre-chorus of ‘Buoys’ is somewhat of an event in the context of the rest of the record. However, from someone that had such a decisive hand in some of the defining alternative records of the 2000s, Buoys sees Lennox sliding down the ranks of still-relevant indie musicians. Lennox has never seemed further from the same artist that so rightly earned a formidable reputation for broad, multifaceted and colourful tunes; and the stylistically narrow, single-mindedly “hyper-futuristic” confines of Buoys only serve to emphasise his ever-diminishing role as a figurehead for alternative music.