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Strawberry Jam – Animal Collective review by novacane
Posted: 12/10/07 by Craig "novacane" Reeves | Comments (1)

Whether New York pigeonhole baiters Animal Collective have incorporated more of an established recipe to bring us this eighth preserve is cause for question in the critics’ canteen. Added to the intoxicating trademark mix of noise, effect, chant and harmony on previous outings are such well tried ingredients as verse and chorus. Pièce de résistance or coup de grace?

Chief protagonists Avey Tare (aka this) and Panda Bear (aka that), fresh from recent extra-curricular releases, Pullhair Rubeye and Person Pitch respectively, again lead the Collective dynamic. The clarity and rolling brightness of the latter perhaps laid an early pointer for Strawberry Jam as here too; those traits are more abundant than on any previous AC-related work.

Precursor Peacebone begins content to resist initial frequency, before lurching into a galloping synthesized stallion on which the Tare vocal later straddles. Opposed to much of the back catalogue and throughout the record, these articulations are just that, barely clouded by the soundscape, and thus allow the listener to venture onto so far less explored terrain.

This sets the tone for an inexorably richer take on experimental folk which is further apparent on album zenith For Reverend Green. Here Tare combines gritty urban verse (“A kid that stabs mommy flew in the trees”)with an exhaustedly relieved “it’s alright” chorus, while also exhibiting a waywardly controlled vocal which traverses desperate reassurance and blood-curdling punctuation in a single proclamation. Relentless country-tinged bound and declared single Fireworks follows in fashion, checking such crack personal conflicts as unwelcome social interaction, self-doubt, realisation and longing. The lyrical blitz of Winter Wonder Land and the other-worldly trip on #1 offer a welcome, less conventional contrast.

On Chores, Bear calls again on that fond Beach Boys sound and creates as near a melodious result as might be appropriate. Beyond lie threatened harmonies but graciously the Manson family seem to arrive on cue to provide a deviance, if not to commit a total massacre. Placid closers Cuckoo Cuckoo and Derek each subject us to the emotion and imagery of death and while the former, and Unsolved Mysteries to a lesser extent, never really find their wings, Derek and its homage to a dead pet carries us to a conclusion in serene and poignant flight.

Whether or not it is fancied that Animal Collective continue to prey on incoherence and discord, however raucous or ambient, Strawberry Jam seems an acceptable evolution. Loyal consumers should be appeased that their yearning for another sonic challenge is delivered here, albeit with more evident traces of structure. That we are simultaneously shown a greater transparency and a more exposed soul should do nothing to detract from this latest strange fruit.

Marrying experimentation with melody and meaning is a delicate ménage à trois which carries all the pitfalls you might expect from such an arrangement. It should be hoped that future forays, whatever the personnel make-up, continue to see prior invention progressed, or at least preserved. Tastefully, this jam is just about right.

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