Reset by Panda Bear and Sonic Boom is one of my favorite albums of 2022. The standout track for me is “Livin’ in the After”, a buzzy psych-tinged meditation from the perspective of someone who’s been “Loopin’ on the carousel / On the carousel.” As Panda Bear explains to Pitchfork, all of the songs on Reset are built out of the intros to old songs, looped and warped into catchy contemporary ditties. The repetition of “On the carousel” is a nice touch, echoing both the production technique and the emotional theme. The speaker, for whom “they keep on ringin’ the final bell,” seems to be having a classic kind of midlife crisis – stuck in a rut, comfortable and entertained but increasingly aware of the imminence of their own death.
What does it mean, “living in the after”? I think it’s a neat way of describing the rut-stuck mindset. The phrase reminds me of Zadie Smith’s essay “Meet Justin Bieber!” in Feel Free (2018), which offers an image of “a Beleiber in the Justin Bieber signing queue,” lined up for “an experience which even as it is happening seems to be relegated to the past tense … not only is this meeting always already a story, it only really exists as narrative.” You’re thinking, “OMG I just met Justin Bieber” even as you’re shaking his hand – a clear cut case of livin’ in the after, to me.
It’s very difficult to break out of that kind of mindset, a difficulty the speaker conveys relatably:
I don’t even want to try and it’s got me down
And I’m thinkin’ I might not come ‘round
Got to take a day to think it through
And give me a night to make up my mind
It’s a deep and melancholy bop. Panda Bear’s voice (and relative level of pretension) turns off a lot of people, but if you can get past that, I think you’ll find a lot to love on Reset.