Strawberry Jam

Animal Collective

Domino Records, 2007

REVIEW BY: Laura Elise


There is no other band that sounds like Animal Collective. Their music provokes a type of euphoria that I cannot explain and is impossible to recreate by any other means. Their most recent release finds them exploring a new side to their unique sound. While their previous albums have each been nothing less than superb, the abundance of ambient noise collages could become somewhat tiring. With Strawberry Jam, there is less quiet ambience and the listener is allowed to further experience the loud, crazy, fun side of the beauty that is Animal Collective.

The band grew out of childhood friendships, and each member has an Animal Collective alias. David Portner is Avey Tare, Noah Lennox is Panda Bear, Josh Dibb is Deakin, and Brian Weitz is Geologist. The four members met in Baltimore and Philadelphia, but the band is now based out of New York City. Since 2000, the Collective has self-released eight full-length discs, and this is quite possibly the most pivotal.

The album as a whole seems to encompass a feeling of jovial confusion, like that of someone unsure of their purpose or direction and probably somewhat disgusted by the world around them, but at the same time carefree, possessing what feels like a naive positivity -- excited apprehension for what’s to come. This is a theme that is reflected well in the fourth, and possibly most epic track, “For Reverend Green.” Between verses which play out almost like lists of depressing anecdotes, Avey Tare repeatedly shouts: “Now I think it’s alright we’re together now, I think that’s alright yeah / A nd now I think it’s the best we’ve ever played it now, I think that’s alright yeah / And now I think it’s alright to feel inhuman now, I think that’s alright yeah / And now I think it’s alright, we’ll sing together now, I think that’s alright yeah,” and we can’t help but happily agree with him. The song closes as Avey growls, “This one’s for Reverend Green.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Fireworks” is my personal favorite track of the album. At barely seven minutes long, every time it ends I wish it would go on forever. Ever the MIDI masters that they are, they have punctuated the entire song with a repetitive -- but not in the least bit annoying -- pounding noise, which conjures up images of an army helicopter flying low over desolate ground. After the ending of the first verse, the song settles into a lull and sounds which are quite possibly just overly processed vocals, but really seem to be wild animals, perfectly setting the mood for Avey Tare’s vocal entrance. He begins by proclaiming, “I’ve been eatin’ with a good friend who said ‘a genie made me out of the Earth’s skin.’”

Another stellar Strawberry Jam number is a ditty entitled “Cuckoo Cuckoo,” which begins with a lovely, serene piano sample. Avey starts off the first verse by telling us that the king in him died; he  then proceeds with some of the most heart-wrenching lyrics I have ever heard, describing the afterlife of this king, warning us all of the despair and loneliness waiting for us in death: “Life was good, now death’s all wrong / ‘Cause you can’t feel a thing, no heart flutters in late spring / You just drift and pray for sun-kissed golden days.” The piano sample continues through the angry explosions which make up the choruses, including lyrics such as “Little kids can’t play with things that have died / Sometimes all I want is one favorite song, and two to three minutes don’t seem so long / And where’s my mom? I want to hold her tight.” While this may sound like a depressing story of death, it is much more a musical tribute to the beauty of life, which we all tend to take for granted. The king says to Avey, “I can’t see the landscape, please describe its amaranthine haze.”

The album closes with a song called “Derek,” which begins as an ode to a childhood pet and sounds very much like a children’s nursery school song. Then, it suddenly morphs into an overwhelmingly percussive tribal dance song, reminiscent of the Sung Tongs classic “We Tigers,” making you want to dance around a large fire wearing animal skins, carefree and euphoric.

It is this carelessness that shapes the Animal Collective’s unique irresistibility and creates such an intense feeling of happiness and freedom. Strawberry Jam is the definitive conveyer of the Collective mindset. If you’re listening carefully, by the time you’ve reached the perfectly subtle yet beautifully exciting entrance of the drums at the end of “Chores,” the Animal Collective have invited you to join their tribe, and you cannot help but accept.  

Rating: A

User Rating: B+


© 2008 Laura Elise and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Domino Records, and is used for informational purposes only.