Review Summary: Animal Collective are really good. Even John Norris knows what's up.
There are a couple things one would expect to see when he turns on MTV at around 11:00, reruns of dating shows most likely, or perhaps, on an off night, a music video or two. But no, the scene is as follows; 11:00, an unsuspecting Tuesday night, a TV comes on; MTV News is running some kind of story “breaking” a “new” band:
“A genre-bending four piece from Baltimore, Animal Collective have had a surprising influence on the indie scene over the past 5 years”
John Norris begins his news report like any other. Remote hits floor, butt plants firmly in seat. Avey Tare’s ugly mug wasn’t the last thing I expected to see impregnate channel 56’s rotation schedule, but it was pretty ****ing close. Animal Collective have a new record out though, and they’ve been one of the most interesting bands around for a while now, so I guess it’s to be expected.
It can be said however, that the average ‘Date My Mom’ fan won’t find what he’s looking for on Strawberry Jam, though I think the bigger question here may be: Will the average Animal Collective fan? Strawberry Jam is big step away from Feels (the band’s last release, considered by some to be one of the band’s best) in many departments; though it’s hard to say which direction the band appear to be going in. For one thing, Jam’s mix is considerably drier then previous Animal Collective works (though it’s still far from the lo-fi fuzz of 2000’s criminally underappreciated Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished) and the vocals are loads louder than they’ve ever been; which takes some getting used to. For another The Collective (or as John Norris seems to like to call them, The Animals) haven’t done this much shouting since their days pre-FatCat Records (Jam is the band’s debut for Domino.) Upon first listen, songs sound half-baked, lazy or even annoying (an adjective a surprising number of folks seem to favor when describing the band) and it takes a couple solid listens to finally crack the crust and begin to appreciate the album for what it is: a masterpiece.
OK, so masterpiece is a bit excessive, but Strawberry Jam is certainly a completely “baked” album (interpret that however you want.) At this point, most know that both Panda Bear and Avey Tare have released solo (or at least solo in the sense that they were apart from their Collective-mates) records in 2007, both of which met some sort of critical acclaim (the one that plays forwards more so.) With this in mind, the fact that Jam is even enjoyable is some kind of otherworldly achievement, but this
borders on frightening. Brilliance comes early and often within the first half of Strawberry Jam. After a woefully disappointing album opener, Unsolved Mysteries is definitely a relief. The song has a distinctly folksy vibe to its verse, harking back to the band’s Sung Tongs days, but its chorus, full of watery effects and feral grunting is something completely new and completely cool. Songs on Strawberry Jam flow loosely, with Panda’s spazzin’ drums going one direction and Geologist’s sounds ‘n’ stuff in another. Chores’ dynamic change from flailing pop to moody drones (captured perfectly in the beautiful chord change that takes place at around 1:45) is stunning as well, but the next track, fourth for those counting, is where Animal Collective really hit their mark.
For Reverend Green is truly stunning. It shares certain elements with first single (and aforementioned “woefully disappointing album opener”) Peacebone, but Tare’s uncharacteristically emotional vocals set the song apart from its contemporaries instantly. Avey Tare might be the only human alive who sounds more
normal singing about being in love with a horny specter (April And The Phantom) as opposed to human love, as presented here, but he does both truly wonderfully. The band (which also includes a guitarist, Deakin, as well as the other, previously mentioned folks) crafts a hell of tune for Tare to express his feelings over. Huge, tremolo guitar sounds bury Panda’s tribal drum-pounding, while another guitar, smudged lovingly into the painting, supplies the song with its gorgeous melody line.
Fireworks is a great song too. ****, they’re all great. Animal Collective is a completely different beast on Strawberry Jam, and it’s beautiful at times, it really is. It kind of chokes me up. And oddly enough, I have all the more respect for them now that they’ve hit the big time (what, with MTV knocking on their door and all that garbage.) Though what I’ve heard about them performing live as a guitar-less hip-hop trio has me kind of skeptical, but I guess that’s an entirely different review.