Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam

This is my introduction to the music of Animal Collective. From what I understand they are a growing band with quite a large following, and from what I hear, this is for good reason.Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam

Out of nowhere now I am putting this album in the running for my best of the year round-up that will be coming up shortly. I wish I had more time to review more albums. This album stands out as one of the more original releases that have passed through my ears in a long time. I’m glad that I didn’t waste my time pontificating over the greatness of the new Radiohead album, as everyone knows that that is a fantastic album, and a very important album….but I digress.

Everything about this Animal Collective album is highly original, everything from the sounds used, to the songforms and lyrics and effects used to process the instruments and voices. I would liken this album to the new release by Liars that came out earlier this year.

At once intense, dark, heavy and layered the unique sound of this band became something of an addiction to me. The psychedelic echoes and wandering falsetto melodies don’t leave me knowing exactly where their influences lay. It is great to be able to hear fresh sounds time and again, that aren’t derivative of something else that is already going on. Animal Collective are forging new territory.

Standout track “For Reverened Green” persists with a repeated, echoed yet staccato distorted guitar while sparse drums permeate the background. The vocals are sung with intensity, and screamed at the top of his lungs at the end of most of the phrases. This is grand music, larger than life. As each song progresses they get bigger and bigger.

There is plenty of push through this album, lots of energy as each track drives into the next one. Each song has a strong melody, as off-kilter as some of them may be. It sounds as if the band is shunning altoghether the traditional rock band set-up. The drums seem to take a back seat to overdubs of guitars, piano lines and various electronic sounds. To be honest, with as much stuff going on at once as there is in this album the drums are not missed to even the slightest degree. Not to say that drums aren’t present at all on the album, it’s just that they are not an interal part of the song, they are not consistently present or persistent in many of the songs. I guess it would be easiest to say that they serve their purpose.

It feels like this album was payed great attention to orchestration. Every song was started from scratch. There don’t seem to be any preconceived notions about what makes up a rock song. The band gets very creative in scoring and instrument choice. There are elements of minimalism throughout most of the album, with it’s repetitious patterns (see the track #1) and layering of material instead of altering the original line in any way.

Another track worthy of special recognition would be “Fireworks”, which begins with a driving (flanged) drumbeat. This would be a great single for radio play in a perfect world. The melody in the verses is just as strong as any I have heard anywhere else. Memorable, powerful and meaningful. A great combination.

I am still at the point where I am listening to this album all the time. There is so much to pick up on, so much to listen to each time. The first 10 listens are definitely exploratory.

As I write this the track “Fireworks” is building to a fiery conclusion, expanding register and dynamics for what seems like days. I don’t want to say that this is the album of the year for me, but I just wanted to take a minute and mention all the things that make this album great. The things that make it great are consequently the things that make all great albums great. Innovative, original, intelligent….etc.

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