The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Jammin’ with Animal Collective: A Look at the New Album

Written by: Jimmy Hitt, CC2K Staff Writer

Image With their now-trademark iron lung rhythm section and always hyper-creative sound amalgams left wholly intact from 2005’s frequently awesome Feels, Animal Collective have officially created a career album.  Strawberry Jam will most certainly be hailed as a major triumph come September 2007 and rightfully so— it’s by far the most consistently rewarding listen of the Baltimore band’s career and should be considered a top ten contender for album of the year.  That is, if Panda Bear—Animal Collective’s drummer, Noah Lennox—doesn’t beat his own band with his equally miraculous Person Pitch.

So taking into account that Animal Collective and its members have combined for around two hours of pitch-perfect psych folk in a single year, it might be safe to say that we’re witnessing music history.  Unlike previous installments of the Animal Collective/Panda Bear sagas, Strawberry Jam finds the group doing something it seemed incapable of just a few years ago: taking the absolutely, flat-out brilliant moments and extending them over an entire LP, rather than chopping them up and dropping them like confetti, alternately hitting their marks or missing completely.

My biggest gripes with Animal Collective’s earlier work—Feels, Sung Tongs, et al—often centered on the massive ADHD that seemed inherent.  For every track like “Who Could Win a Rabbit?” or “Grass”, there were two or three like “Banshee Beat”.  I’m sure plenty of the group’s core fans find their more subdued meanderings to be the essential focus of the band, but let’s be serious here for a minute—Animal Collective isn’t exactly blowing up, even in its native Baltimore.  The group’s music is critically admired, but culturally blah. 

The major reason for their lack of success—despite virtually rewriting the book of rock—is that many of their songs sound, well, boring.  They drone on using beat-less, synthy, Joe Meek-esque noise palettes as their primary guide.  Occasionally (see “The Purple Bottle” off Feels), the band hits the mark with this strategy, neatly juxtaposing the chill with the full freak-out.  But more often than not, both Feels and Sung Tongs suffer from a lack of enjoyable hits and a lot of tedious passages. 

Not so, Strawberry Jam.  The first four tracks alone pack as much punch as the previous albums’ entire span.  First single “Peacebone” opens with a bizarre synth dirge that eventually gets replaced by expert psych-pop.  The remainder of the big four openers also find Animal Collective refusing to calm down, whether one studies the sturdy melody at the heart of “Chores” or the rabid intensity of “Unsolved Mysteries”.  The more traditionally trippy moments present in these first four tracks tend to take a back seat, however, to a seriousness not seen in Animal Collective’s previous work, like they’re waging for something intangible.

Taken along with the remaining five tracks, Strawberry Jam becomes the definitive statement of the band’s career, unquestionably.  In a nutshell worthy of Harlan Pepper, Animal Collective have thoroughly reinvented themselves while remaining true to their primary objective (psyching your balls off).  Whether the aforementioned changes make for glorious departures or just straight-up genre splicing (see the faux-punk/metal vocals on “For Reverend Green”) remains debatable, but at its core, the new album’s critical and commercial success will be prodigious.

Strawberry Jam leaked to the internet in three sections between June 12th and July 4th, so clever music fans should be able to sample the tracks any time they please between now and the mysteriously vague “September 2007” release date.  But one listen should convince even the most frugal pirates that the album demands to be nestled comfortably among the best of your collection, even if the cover is kind of creepy.