November 19, 2010

Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam
neo-psychedelia, experimental-pop, electronic

On every album prior to this one, Animal Collective had maintained a fairly even balance between “songs” and “soundscapes”, splitting their time almost equally between Animal Collective - Strawberry Jamalien pop songs and drifting, longform experimental pieces, giving them equal appeal to fans of the infectious as well as the cerebral, yet perhaps never quite satisfying either side to the fullest extent. On Strawberry Jam, they finally decided to swing the pendulum all the way to the “songs” side, resulting in what was their catchiest, most accessible and concise work yet. This couldn’t have pleased me more, as all of my favourite songs by the eccentric four-piece have been their more overtly melodic pieces, like Sung Tongs’ “Who Could Win a Rabbit”, Feels’ “The Purple Bottle” and Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’re Vanished’s “April and the Phantom”, so an album with nothing but those sorts of songs was always going to be a hit with me. The album lays out nine slices of vital, quirky, unconventional pop music, conveyed through jittering synths, warm acoustic strums, kaleidoscopic production and off-kilter vocals (delivered predominantly by my preferred Animal Collective vocalist, David Portner a.k.a Avey Tare, in this instance) that drip with emotion at every turn. Several of those songs rank easily amongst the best “pop” tracks the group have recorded, and if I were to put together a list of my favourite Animal Collective cuts I suspect that “For Reverend Green”, “Peacebone” and “Fireworks”, all of which appear on this very album, might find themselves at the top (with “#1” and “Winter Wonder Land” sitting not too far behind). The album is very economical and well-contained, with no individual song ever outstaying its welcome (which has been an occasional issue in the past), and “Derek”, the album’s carnivalesque finale, makes for a perfectly timed end of the line. With 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavillion, the group streamlined their sound even more, filtering out many of the most vital eccentricities (Avey Tare’s prominent vocal being the most crucial) such that, to me, the result felt watered down and significantly less engaging. Strawberry Jam marked the colourful peak of one of the decade’s most interesting and exuberant groups.