“It’s all in the family…When they said he’s ill / Laughed it off as if it’s no big deal.”
Tropic of Cancer‘s opening lines are a denial. They are a supine stance in the face of impending familial tragedy, but it’s a stance unshared by the singer: “What a joke to joke. No joke.” The song reaches its most revealing upon the hard K in “joke” at 1:44. It’s understated, easily missed–to be mistaken for a mistake, even–but it’s venomous and indicative of a pain still very much alive, in itself cancerous if unchecked. The moment is transient and intuitive and unnervingly beautiful, one of the most stunning vocalised moments in music. Vsevolozhsky’s sample, looped in dub fashion, is weightless and expertly stretched and decelerated to accommodate syllabic expression–a configured inducement to hear the contradiction that is Panda Bear, an enigmatic artist yet entirely confessional.
Panda Bear has expressly stated that his Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper LP is not about death. Instead, it is a representation of changes in identity. The beauty of music is the ability to project upon it one’s own experience and sentiments. The emotive nature of music can be molded to suit. In a sense, however, we cheat music and the artist’s intentions each time we read into music what isn’t there. Tropic of Cancer‘s beginnings are of death (life reversed), to be sure, but to reject the refrain and what follows is to reject the certainty that with death one is altered; one has evolved.
“And you can’t get back / You won’t come back / You can’t come back to it.” Can’t. Won’t. Can’t again.
Locked in the present and finitely bolted to a future, we’re mandated to carry with us an unchangeable past. This is not to call our journey ill-fated, however. If we’re fortunate to live long into the future, pain will be a staple of our sensation’s diet and death key to our experience, for what we live is a single opportunity experience. To dismiss sickness and death as an anomaly, as impairing our experience, is to shortchange our own fate–our only fate.
“Sick has to eat well, too / Got to like it all / Got to like what kills.”