Animal Collective
Strawberry Jam

By: Will Lamborn

I knew it was really sweet, tangy stuff, but it also has this real sharp quality to it. There was something futuristic looking about it, and I definitely wanted the album to have that sort of quality.”

Noah Lennox of Animal Collective’s recent comments to Pitchfork describe fruit preserves served to him on an airplane and the resulting album title Strawberry Jam, the latest release by this relentlessly boundary-pushing NYC-based outfit.  Following the highly regarded Sung Tongs and Feels, Strawberry Jam is less drony and more sonically dense; there is a lot going on here.  Pop, electronic, folk, rock, pastiche, noise, psychedelia are piled high, each one onto the next.  Peeling back the layers slowly reveals a complex core, which is indeed parts sweet, tangy, and sharp, and is also completely exhilarating.  

And this also may be the poppiest record Animal Collective has recorded yet.  The hooks are simple but undeniable.  Vocals cut clean through the full-bellied mix, particularly those of Avey Tare, who shows himself to be a singer of considerable range; his childlike joy and excitement slide easily into unnerving, tension-ridden shrieks.  Lennox’s sweeter, pop-inflected tones, given the spotlight in his solo work, (you may know him as Panda Bear) here provide a tender balance.  Both carry their own musical personalities, but within Animal Collective they meld into one and are at times difficult to distinguish.

Single “Peacebone” opens the record with abrasive electronic noise that winds its way into the rhythmic backbone as the full band joins.  The melody is pure pop, the lyrics gastronomically oriented and enthused, the background replete with squelches, screeches, and bouncy synth sounds.  The first half of Strawberry Jam follows at a similar clip, matching great pop melodies with careening, incredibly imaginative musical mayhem.  A lovely falsetto melody counters the intense, crackly lead vocals that build to a cathartic climax on “For Reverend Green”, which then leads to album centerpiece “Fireworks”.  “Fireworks” is itself a standout track, with its dancing melody, swelling guitar chords, and lyrical complexity.

Strawberry Jam becomes more spacious throughout its second half, the structures looser but the pop kept intact.  The entrancing vibes and keyboards of “#1” will surely invite Terry Riley and Steve Reich comparisons, though the delivery and melody are distinctively Animal Collective.  “Winter Wonder Land” brings to mind the poppier side of Brian Eno, until the chorus shines through with chanted, primitivist wonder.  Closer “Derek”, sung by Lennox, concludes the album in beautiful, calming fashion.  It has been a busy, successful year for Lennox; March brought his second solo release as Panda Bear, the deservedly acclaimed Person Pitch, itself an ear-to-ear grin full of molded looping beats and samples with joyous Brian Wilson-esque harmonies.

Strawberry Jam finds Animal Collective at a creative peak.  They maintain threads from their previous work, but focus on pop melody more than ever.  There is a youthful enthusiasm, sweet and tangy, but a sharp, tension-filled quality permeates as well.  It showcases a group in continual progression, and entirely on top of their game.






All opinions expressed by Will Lamborn are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.


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