This is one band who won’t be heading towards the road’s middle for some time yet.
Adam Webb 2007
On the back of Strawberry Jam, it might be useful to compare Animal Collective with Mercury Rev. Certainly, the latter band were once something of experimental proposition – fronted by the unhinged personality of David Baker and with a blurry and unfocussed sound to match. This formula frequently produced glorious records, but it was not made to last. Hence, in the late 90’s the Rev took a right-turn and cut their one bona fide classic, Deserters Songs.
In 2007, Animal Collective (that’s Panda Bear, Avey Tare, Deakin and Geologist) hold a similar position. After six albums of wayward hit-and-miss experimentalism, previous outing, Feels revealed a more linear approach to music-making. Not linear in the accepted sense of the word; but at times there was the definite whiff of ‘chorus’ and ‘verse’, even if these soon descended into a bubbling mix of chaos.
Strawberry Jam continues this evolution: influenced in equal measure by the Beach Boys, Frank Zappa and the outer peripheries of freak folk, it mostly sounds like a hippy sect howling harmonies while trapped in a psychedelic wormhole. Songs shift continually, instruments come and go, and whooping war cries drop in and drop out.
On the likes of “Fireworks” and “Winter Wonder Land” the results are a never-ending cosmic jam session, while “#1” takes replicates the repetitive discipline of techno on real instruments. The ability to confound and surprise is retained, not only in the same song, but, in the case of lead single “Peacebone”, often in the same moment.
As a result, Strawberry Jam is never inaccessible, but will be recommended for anyone who likes music as a Chinese puzzle. Those wanting more lasting – though no less head-expanding - pleasures are best directed towards Panda Bear’s solo album of this year, Person Pitch. But this is one band who won’t be heading towards the road’s middle for some time yet.