Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
Reviewed by Andreas on 25th September 2007
Some stories are best started, well, at the beginning. As a music fan, I first came into contact with Animal Collective the bog-standard way; I was looking for a picture of a panda. Apparently one of the members of Animal Collective is called "Panda Bear" and thus my hunt for our black and white friends yielded a picture of a man in a panda mask. Could you ask for more? Anyway, I quickly found some of their albums, and came to like their off-kilter approach to songs that could be the theme tunes to particularly vicious childrens' stories.
"Feels", Animal Collective's previous album, was a hard pill to swallow on first listen, but it grew and grew and grew with you. It was an album that you'd find yourself humming without meaning to. It had what can only be called really strange songs, but an unmistakable warmth and atmosphere. After quite a while, "Strawberry Jam" doesn't quite ring the same way.
However, for an album that starts off with a "squidgy" (it's a word!) synth noise, "Strawberry Jam" does very good for itself. Through the chaos of guitars, drums and synths melody and words come out. "Peacebone" has a certain sunny tunefulness to it, "For Reverend Green" is a mass of shouts and screams and tremolo guitars, and so the album continues. Through delayed guitars and strange tunes, Animal Collectively (see what I did there?) take the songs to equally strange places. The minute the vocals kick in, you realise Animal Collective are on the brink of something truly special.
The lyrics don't really make much of an impact, not on me at least. It's more about the overall "feel" of the songs, but it's nice to hear "Fireworks" - a song that actually sounds like its title. As the drum and cymbals crash, images of firecrackers and the burst of fire in the sky on a dark night come to mind. Despite this, the album is much more about emotional rather than lyrical delivery. The aforementioned "For Reverend Green", and second to last number "Cuckoo Cuckoo", screams punctuating and setting the moods that drift out, are both very good songs. Songs that touch a nerve when you listen to them. "For Reverend..." is steeped in guitars that could have opened an overplayed The Smiths song, whilst "Cuckoo..." is quiet, downplayed, but equally powerful.
The thing with Animal Collective is that they've constantly been on the edge of a wider accessibility than you'd think. Underneath all the chaos and jumps and whathaveyous there are some really good, albeit strange, songs. This can make it all the harder to "like" Animal Collective, it's quite easy to get stuck on the noise and the screaming and miss out on the really brilliant parts. This, of course, makes getting past the ugly and to the pretty all the better, which was the case with "Feels". Sadly, I'm not quite there yet with "Strawberry Jam", and sometimes the entire album drags on.
Still, the harmonies of "Unsolved Mysteries" are almost untouchable...
The cover has also ruined jam for me for ever.
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