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Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam

Animal Collective, Strawberry Jam

Review by Richard Goodwin

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

Weird avant-popster’s new album show little sign of dumbing down. Experimental pop at its best.

OVER the course of seven albums Animal Collective have put themselves at the forefront of the wave of experimental pop currently doing the rounds.

Their wilfully eclectic and bizarre mix of pop melodies and experimental leftfield structures and production has garnered them both critical acclaim and a growing cult following.

Their new album mixes childlike playfulness with thoughtful experimentation to continue the trend.

Strawberry Jam kicks off with two playful pop tracks. Peacebone is a rambling, clattering track and at first appears quite abrasive. Upon repeat listening, however, the array of melodies begin to reveal them and this is a great track to kick off with.

Unsolved Mysteries continues the off-kilter pop slant with childish melodies and using swirling Wurlitzer’s to great effect.

Next up is Chores, a bizarre track of warped sing-a-long chants underpinned with pummelling driving drums, which bounces along merrily until an odd fade out of stretched out vocals moves the track into a kind of mantra.

Then comes the album’s killer track, For Reverend Green. It begins with guitars put through a delay pedal much like Johnny Marr’s use of the effect on the classic How Soon Is Now. After a short while, a beautiful melody starts to take shape and then Avey Tare’s vocals kick in.

One of the keys to the track is Avey Tare’s schizophrenic singing, jumping up and down octaves and suddenly, without warning, erupting into passionate screams. It’s the most gorgeous, off-kilter pop song of the year and undoubtedly the album highlight.

Fireworks follows and is in the same vain as For Reverend Green but suffers from immediate comparison. It’s a psycadelic swirl played over clattering, hypnotic percussion but it can’t quite repeat the brilliance of its predecessor.

The album then takes a turn away from the strong pop leanings of the first half and moves towards move experimental territory. #1 begins like a trippy version of one of Bowie’s Berlin period instrumentals and quickly evolves into something more akin to early Mercury Rev.

Winter Wonderland returns us back to Animal Collective’s pop side but is a lesser offering. Cuckoo Cuckoo starts on a weird tape loop with hushed vocals and has lovely piano sprinkled over the top. Bizarre bursts of discordant drums pop in and out as spacey effects bump into another piece of vocal somersaulting.

The album closes with Derek, the oddest campfire sing-a-long ever recorded! It’s a fun way to end the album and is almost annoyingly catchy, but it’s so odd I doubt you’ll be hearing it at the next Boy Scout Jamboree …

After both Avey Tare and Panda Bear produced excellent solo albums recently Strawberry Jam proves that they still work best together.

Sure, there are obvious reference points in their music – The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and Super Fury Animals at their most experimental – but Animal Collective retain their individuality through their joyous, gleeful energy.

The childlike way they seem to view the world is both their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. Whilst bubbly and fun, it also takes away any depth to the record and can leave the album appearing slightly throwaway.

Strangely the album also suffers from its greatest track, For Reverend Green. It’s so good that it unbalances the album as nothing else can quite live up to its brilliance.

So along with Menomena’s excellent Friend or Foe album, Animal Collective have shown that experimental pop is still alive and kicking. A very good album lit up by what could be the best track of the year.

Download picks: For Reverend Green, Unsolved Mysteries, Chores, #1

Track listing:

  1. Peacebone
  2. Unsolved Mysteries
  3. Chores
  4. For Reverend Green
  5. Fireworks
  6. #1
  7. Winter Wonderland
  8. Cuckoo Cuckoo
  9. Derek