on September 11, 2007
Animal Collective are my favorite band, so my opinion was a bit skewed from the start, but hearing these songs evolve from their original live versions has been a real treat. Immediatly after hearing "Fireworks," I knew it was my new favorite song of theirs and the Studio version on "Strawberry Jam" is almost as good. This album is filled with such beautiful melodies, creative sounds and recording techniques and vocal delivery. "Reverend Green" is amazingly catchy and driving. "Winter WonderLand" is pop perfection if I've ever heard it. Put this album on headphones or see them live. These guys have a perfect mix of natural, child-like bliss and scary, unpredicatbleness to their sound that transports you to a different planet. You don't find music this good on Earth very often. If you listen with an open mind, it's hard not to fall in love with it.
on September 13, 2007
I can remember when Animal Collective's 2005 album, "Feels," came out. I remember reading Rolling Stone calling them an "Artist to watch" or something similar to that, no doubt about 2 pages away from them ranting about the genius of Christina Aguilera or Pink. I recall being entirely confused by this article, mostly because this was Animal Collective, a band that has traditionally taken the non-Rolling Stone route of creating music. To see the one magazine that represents everything that is wrong with the music industry even acknowledging the band's existence was surprising to say the least. As it turns out though, my initial fear that Animal Collective had put aside their experimental rock sound in favor of a more Rolling Stone-friendly style was premature. "Feels" was a great album that showed a clear progression from "Sung Tongs," and I generally enjoyed what I heard.
"Strawberry Jam" also shows the band growing and expanding on their sound. The most notable change is that the album is strangely devoid of any significant downtime. Whereas their past two albums (the only two that I am familiar with) had upbeat, fast songs like "Who Could Win a Rabbit" grouped with dreamy, slow songs like "Bees," "Strawberry Jam" is exciting and upbeat for the majority of it's 43 minutes. In addition, the album also utilizes electronic instrumentation and effects more than their other works. It helps give "Strawberry Jam" a fresher sound and separates it from their previous records.
"Peacebone" gets thing started on a good note, as it's one of my favorite Animal Collective songs ever, blending electronic flutters with sing-along vocals and syncopated guitars. It sounds great! Of course, like most Animal Collective songs, it really needs to be heard in order to be understood. The album continues to spiral in and out of control, each song taking seemingly incompatible sounds and mashing them together to form something that is entirely unique. "For Reverend Green" is another brilliant song, and hearing Avey Tare (I think) scream out the song's title repeatedly at the end is a small joy that everyone should experience. That song fades into "Fireworks," a 7-minute song that utilizes every second to the fullest; never wasting a single moment with trivial instrumentation or lyrics.
"Strawberry Jam" isn't about the songs, though. It's about the album as a whole. Sure, you could pick out your favorites, put them on your iPod, and call it a day, but you'd be missing out on a truly memorable experience. I must admit that on their previous albums, I did just that. But "Strawberry Jam" is definitely something that needs to be listened to in its entirety. It's definitely not going to be for everyone, but that's to be expected. Animal Collective's music may be cursed to being viewed as either complete amateurism or complete genius, but absolutely no one could say that it's ordinary. Not even Rolling Stone. Of course, my biggest complaint with the album is the same as my complaints with their past works. "Strawberry Jam" is definitely a great record, but it's not something I can listen to with consistency week after week. However, I look forward to spending time with the album here and there, knowing that when I do, I'll be treated to something new and exciting every time!
2. "For Reverend Green"
4. "Winter Wonder Land"
7 out of 10 Stars
on September 13, 2007
For all of Animal Collective's stylistic leapfrogging over the course of six albums, one could reductively say that their career has been a steady trajectory toward accessibility. "Accessibility" is, of course, a relative term, and it depends on who you ask; there are some for whom the Collective's shrieking vocals, unconventional riffing and fried electronics will never feel welcoming. But many of the band's latest songs are accessible in that they utilize elements typically found in a pop song, such as beats, choruses, and decipherable lyrics. To hear their newest music in the context of their alternately formless and vitrified early work is basically to witness two entirely different bands.
Feels (2005) was much more rockish than anything Animal Collective previously allowed themselves to do, though they still traded off between tribal, ADD pop and soupy ambient pieces. (I was slow on the uptake with these at first, but they offer great rewards down the line.) The band must have realized that their pop songs best held listeners' interest, because Strawberry Jam is almost entirely comprised of them. Interestingly, though, the nature of the pop is different. Instead of the shimmering, rounded tones that caress you as they pull you toward some sort of fauna heaven, Strawberry Jam prefers to jab, not lifting you up so much as stunning you where you sit and lurching you backward. The comparison to Mercury Rev's aberrant pop works well here; for an even better one, imagine some of the nightmarish fairy tale music on Animal Collective's own Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished (2000) reformatted for a more mainstream setting.
Take "Peacebone," for example. It's an audacious way to begin an album--a demented and seriously creepy romp in which Avey Tare mentions broccoli, monsters, mildew, and other things you wouldn't want to encounter in the bathtub, in a voice more direct and understandable than makes us feel comfortable. Speaking of which, one of the most glaring changes from Feels to Jam is the decipherability of the vocals. Those who appreciate easy-to-understand lyrics may approve, but for me, the pleasure of this band didn't come from what was sung, but how it was sung: in shrieks, warbles, hisses and coos, befitting their bestial moniker. It cuts out a major portion of their mystery, but then, mystery isn't where Strawberry Jam sets its crosshairs. It's a record that's meant to be stared at in awe, not a place to explore.
To that end, Strawberry Jam has some choice moments. "Fireworks" is the one song here that's incredible the whole way through--a sweetly lovelorn track whose emphatic vocals help it reach near-"Purple Bottle" levels of exultation. "Derek" has the feel of a typical Animal Collective B-side before its amazing second half, where Panda Bear chants scales over a stomping beat that he had to have pilfered from a hockey game. The skittish "Winter Wonderland" and the vaguely calypso "Chores" are both fresh and reminiscent of what the group did so well on their last two records. The more ambient, piano-led "Cuckoo Cuckoo" actually sounds like a blatant holdover from a time when the band was fine with seeing how long they could stretch a drone. To read the blogs and message boards, it's everyone's least favorite track, but for my money it's insanely gorgeous, and I'm not ready to let Animal Collective give up the liquefied side of their personality so easily.
And then there is, of course, the question of where this sonically itinerant band will go next. I wondered the same thing after hearing Feels, believing that they'd reached both their high water mark and a dead end. Strawberry Jam seems like the only logical place they could have ended up: It's a spinier version of Feels' most ebullient moments, abundant in hooks and freakouts but lacking in depth. Even this late in the band's career, though, they remain unbelievable songwriters, still turning riffs upside down and finding ways to subvert our expectations of how rock music should sound. So, my worry that Animal Collective has nowhere else to go is somewhat allayed by their creative brilliance and tireless work ethic. Besides, if Panda Bear can write Brazilified Beach Boys songs and Avey Tare can release an entire album played backwards, we'd be idiots to think that the sky wasn't the limit.
on December 13, 2009
It's so hard to describe the allure of this album to someone who hasn't listened to Animal Collective before.
In the first few listens, it can seem like a jumbled mess, which some of the other reviewers naively categorized it as.
After you get to know this album several more times, and take it seriously that is, it's a completely different beast.
The way AC layers melodies and rhythms on top of each other can only be described as brilliant.
For example, take Fireworks, IMHO, the best piece on the album.
It's energetic, and whimsical, depressing, and beautiful at the same time. It's just a flood of emotion that can't really be
easily put into words.
This song made me cry. CRY.
Anyway, enough of that.
You should go listen to it yourself, and make your own judgement, because this is a very, very subjective group.
on January 16, 2008
Animal Collective have managed to maintain an general ambiance of highly creative and haphazardly entrancing melodies with "Sung Tongs" and "Feels." Both albums are spangled with excessive layering and experimentation that somehow manages to evolve into a quite conventional tune. True, "Sung Tongs" and "Feels" had their differences, mainly being a slight trajectory into a more commercial atmosphere with "Feels," yet both still managed to capture the listener's imagination with both a unique use of lush melody and a constantly evolving timbre. To those who enjoy the atmospheric aspects of the past two Animal Collective albums, as do I, be warned: the moments of psychedelic hysteria on "Strawberry Jam" are few.
The more commercial leanings of "Strawberry Jam" should be no surprise to anyone who has been keeping tabs on Animal Collective. Shorter songs, discernable vocals, a return to earth from space, all were foretold on "Feels." Though even with these aspects fully prepared for on my behalf, I still emerged from "Strawberry Jam" quite dissatisfied. The previous overpowering melodic presence has been largely replaced by sharp and angular pop songs. Rather than the dynamic drifting walls of sonic beauty featured in previous albums, "Strawberry Jam" is full of erratic electronic experimentation that seems almost cut-and-paste and completely out of character for Animal Collective. The reverb drenched vocal harmonies no longer quiver and float in the background but are now head and shoulders above the mix and lack the obscure, mysterious magic of those on "Feels;" but the greatest peeve of mine towards this album lies with its inability to distinguish itself as anything more than another good indie album.
That being said, "Strawberry Jam," coming from any other band than Animal Collective, is a good release; the songs are bizarre yet catchy, and there is potential for greatness eagerly bubbling over the brim. Had Animal Collective not released two much more entertaining and entrancing albums prior to "Strawberry Jam," these anomalous and awkward pop songs would interest me, but to no extraordinary extent. Unfortunately Animal Collective has proven to be a band of exceptional talent; therefore I am left with the putrid aftertaste of underachievement. I am forced to give this album no less than four stars, because in its own right it is a decent album. To those who find the reverb layered atmospherics of early Animal Collective albums intriguing, I would strongly recommend purchasing Panda Bear's 2007 release "Person Pitch" rather than "Strawberry Jam." To those new to Animal Collective and accustomed to more conventional music, this album is a great place to start. Keep in mind as you move onto earlier material that you are getting into a completely different musical experience.
on June 24, 2009
I wanted to purchase this album after being wowed by Merriweather Post Pavillion but I procrastinated, clinging obstinatelty to my "extreme metal/ hardcore punk/ alternative latin comfort zone" but after a couple of listens, I am glad that I finally saw the light. It is hard to desribe the dark energy that flows through this entire cd which still leaves room for an odd sense of optimism in the most cynical of beings. "Fireworks" is easily one of the greatest and most danceable pieces of music I have ever heard and it is worth the price of the whole cd alone.
on January 22, 2009
When I first saw live footage of AC performing "Cuckoo Cuckoo" in 2006, I was extremely hyped for their upcoming album, Strawberry Jam. The performance seemed to indicate an embrace of rock dynamics left over from the Feels LP, but with a focus on repetition and off-kilter rhythms that amplified the hypnotic qualities of the medium. When SJ finally leaked, I was expecting to hear an album that more or less followed a similar muse.
Needless to say, I was profoundly disappointed with what I heard. Sugary synth arpeggios, vocals way up in the mix, Avey Tare giving a dopey pop punk delivery, and embarrassingly corny lyrics. That's "Peacebone" in a nutshell. Other songs are stronger, but suffer from the same bad mixing, and a sharp production that strips the songs of their mystery. Really the only song that sounds perfectly like old Animal Collective is "#1", a haunting and quite pretty tribal chant. Songs like "Chores," "For Reverend Green," and "Derek" are also good despite the production, and so the album is still enjoyable overall. But enjoyable is not the same as sacred. And Peacebone is the first song by Animal Collective that I actually dislike. Finally, there's the studio version of "Cuckoo Cuckoo." With the sharp, flat production and stiff arrangement, it sounds more like lukewarm Big Black than the bone shaking pagan thrash of earlier incarnations. Like most of the album: lots of good ideas, poorly realized.
I've come to terms with Strawberry Jam, but I still don't understand the unanimous praise it has received. The genius spark of AC is still here, but it's diluted. Earlier albums showcase their brilliance in a consistently pure state. Even the Water Curses EP that followed SJ is better realized than this.
I still like this album, and I still look forward to each Collective-related release, but, for me, Strawberry Jam was the moment that their Midas streak ended. This was the first Animal Collective album that I didn't want to chemically fuse myself to.
on January 6, 2009
I love how this band is able to mutate itself into something new, always exploring different themes. I was introduced to Animal Collective back when Sung Tongs was released and I must admit at first I was a little perplexed by the music, but at the same time there was something about it that stayed with me. I forgot about the band for a while until I heard about Strawberry Jam and the great reviews it received. I took a chance and got the record and absolutely fell in love with it. Each song is a masterpiece unto itself, but also flow perfectly together into some chaotic way I'll probably never understand. There is this reoccurring theme of triumph and sweetness that I pick up on, like a voice saying get out there and enjoy life. This album stayed on repeat for me for probably the longest of any record I've ever listened to. The sounds are just so dense that there is always something new to discover and it never seems to get old. It's really hard to pick favorites from this record, but for me Fireworks, Peacebone and Derek stand out slightly more than the others.
Strawberry Jam made me go through the band's back catalog to find I completely missed another gem of an album, Feels. Feels is a completely different sounding album that is brimming with love themes that are some of the most heartfelt I've ever heard. You really don't hear too many love songs anymore that can really be taken seriously. For me, the songs perfectly reflect a broad range of different types and progressions of relationships one encounters throughout life. There is not as much experimentation as on Strawberry Jam, but many of the songs are still chill-inducing and all of them pack a strong emotional punch. Banshee Beat, Grass and Did You See the Words are the top three for me, but they're all great.
I then went back and explored Sung Tongs and found a new appreciation for the record. I just needed to have a little more patience with the album and it bloomed for me. Sung Tongs has a child-like feeling to it, filled with mystery and fantasy, sort of like a picture book. It reminds me of camping with my family when I was younger, or of Christmas before it was ruined for me. Winter's love is definitely my favorite track.
When I heard that Animal Collective was releasing a new album the first month of 2009, I immediately started listening to all the live versions of the songs and couldn't wait for it to come out. The songs were all very electric, which was something I was hoping the band would try after hearing band member Panda Bear's amazing solo album, Person Pitch. Finally, the album Merriweather Post Pavilion (named after a music venue in Maryland) came out and has since become my favorite of their work. It's absolutely an amazing sounding record with many of the songs blending into each other. It maintained the same electronic sound that their live shows had but more refined. The song content seems to be a mishmash of the different themes the explored in the past, with an emphasis on family. The songs are very danceable in a sensible and electronic sort of way and pretty uplifting; a couple songs are about the band member's children or attempting to cheer family members up after the death of a parent. One thing I did notice is that Avey Tare's random shrieks and yelps have been subdued, which may make it more accessible to some newcomers (hopefully they reserve this for the live shows though, since I do enjoy it to a level, especially on Summertime Clothes). Merriweather Post Pavilion is definitely the best album of the year already. I can't wait to hear what's next!
on September 12, 2007
Animal Collective have managed to bring pop sensibilities into their warped and bizarre, but ultimately satisfying brand of music. I admit that I didn't understand what all the hoopla was about, so I listened and listened until I discovered pure magic, pure genius.
It's incredibly refreshing to find a group that defy convention in such an unpretentious manner. Though not as monumental as "Feels", "Strawberry Jam" should have its place in the limelight.
These are people that truly love music, not for the sake of record sales or popularity, but for the pure joy of creating something unique.
Please give them a patient listen. Many will not understand them and label them as overrated. However, after repeated listening, you are sure to understand why so many revere this group.
Magical, bizarre, and worthy of multiple listens as there are so many facets to discover.
Few artists hold a place in my list of vital music. Animal Collective is surely at/near the top.
on October 20, 2010
This album is excellent. The musical creativity and professional studio production spew forth from it's driving melodies and lyrical hooks. Song structure and sonic landscaping become more apparent once the nostalgia has worn away. After the first listen you begin to notice the little things in the background; sounds put there so delicately that you might not have heard them the first time. You won't find much classical instrumentation on this album, and lets just say that the lyrics are meant for a different sort of person. Still, it is quite accessible, even to the casual listener. Strawberry Jam is fun and energetic, sweet and tart like it's name implies, and maintains a vocal centric mode without becoming drawn out. I can listen to this album over and over again and still enjoy it. More of a work of art if you ask me, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Don't let me sway you, listen for yourself and decide what you think. Think for yourself. Question authority. My tastes are different from your tastes. That is all.