Monday, April 21, 2014

Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam Review (2007)

The early electronic rattling’s and guitar strums entangled with Animal Collective's stylistically oft-kilter lyrical presence ("A peacebone got found in a dinosaur wing.") mark the band's signature sounds through the initial seconds. However, as one progresses further into Strawberry Jam, it becomes rather clear that their seventh LP has some grave undertones lingering about, with meaningful passages moving through the nine songs. Prior to 2007 Animal Collective's respect in the music industry never ranged further out than the inner-hipster obsession that flagged their population from the get-go. Their abstract song structures matched with their peculiar personalities put the quartet made up of Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist, & Deakin in an odd spot as loners at the turn of the 21st century. They were ridiculed by the masses for their unorthodox ways of approaching music, but rather than succumbing to the torment, Animal Collective approached each album uniquely, untethered by outside influences. Sure enough, the 21st century, at least the first decade of it, led to a resurgence in Indie music, with sub-genres eradicating themselves left and right to curb the vast amount of interests that sprouted up thanks to the Internet. And yet, the band known for their nonconformist ways, remained fixed in their own genre. Strawberry Jam however, worked wonderfully as a collection of songs aimed at gathering outside respect from those who failed to see the staying power the group exerted up to that point, with chilling lyrical content and dark instrumentation.

Nowhere is this greater than on the album’s two-part centerpiece, For Reverend Green & Fireworks. The two, without question, are the best back-to-back tracks found on any Animal Collective record and serve as the album’s main point; accepting one’s self while growing old. Both exceeding six and a half minutes, each track maneuvers through various movements, building upon one another with reckless abandon. For Reverend Green begins with a remarkably distorted vocal manifestation, whose only comparison resembles a demon coming out of a coma with a rolling rock ballad. The song perfectly encapsulates Animal Collective’s changing mentality of life, that moving past the careless days of old into the unforeseen challenges of parental life could prove fulfilling if one endures the ‘riot’ with someone they love. This feeling only gets exacerbated by Avey Tare’s tremendously emotional singing, where emissions of passionate screaming coincide with poignant plea’s for sanity in a brain split into two divisive forms of action. This adds another level of depth previously unheard from the band so caught up in their childish sounds. The explosive chorus mixes the dynamic; with playful hollers of "whoo-oo-oo,” passed in the same breath over extraordinarily grim production, best showcasing the changing of guard for a band attempting to latch onto the past. 

The track segues into the masterpiece Fireworks, Animal Collective’s most mature song to date. Terrified of the mundane lifestyle (“What’s the day, what are you doing?”), Tare seeks to rekindle the lost creativity his adult life has given to him. Wishing he could go back to the days of free-thinking where his imagination was keen to run wild (“It’s family beaches that I desire, A sacred night where we’ll watch the fireworks”), only to realize that everyone growing old experiences the loss of that childlike mentality due to our modern society. Fireworks represents the shifting point of Animal Collective’s career, where talk about forming a household and stable life on My Girls became the forefront of the band’s outlook. The rolling stutter of the drum line is eerily reminiscent of the previous track, connecting their approaches through music. The melodic breakdown, also similar to For Reverend Green, works in the same; as a burst of energetic, childish excitement only found on the chorus upon reminiscing over the past.

Despite the shocking one-two punch thrown smack dab in the middle of Strawberry Jam, the rest, excluding a song or two, resemble previous works, with the sole difference lying in the company of structured formats. Chores and #1, not coincidently sandwiched around the previous two, endure the long-droning sounds many of Animal Collective’s old works aspired too, resembling torched-out synthetic musings, meant to represent the coming and going jolt into reality that is the centerpiece. The album isn’t without Animal Collective’s typically lighter moments however, Winter Wonder Land showcases the bright, childish nature of Avey Tare’s upbeat, spur-of-the-moment lyrics, setting the scene for a winter wonder land that never melts those who inhabit it, and cherishes those who believe in its fantastical ways. The soaring synths and tingling bells that adorn the piece awaken the inner child frantically playing in the snow on Christmas day, while “tears are frozen diamonds, so we smile while we’re crying.” The album’s closer, Derek, beautifully sums up Strawberry Jam’s divisive beliefs, forming a cacophony of colliding principles, joining playful lyrics with meaningful undertones and bubbly production that collapsing itself into an aggressive, warlike march. On the outside Derek is about a dog, whose name composes the title. Deep down however, one sees comparisons with the long-foregone dog and a new-born child, seeing the difficulty in raising the latter through the simplicity of the former (“Derek never woke up at night, and in the morning he’s ready to go. And he never had a voice like you to scream when he wanted something.”) The song, and album, despite drastic changes in sound end on a positive note, with a father exclaiming to his son that “when you count, count on me.”

This makes up the crux of Strawberry Jam. Boys becoming men, kids morphing into parents, unique individuals conforming to society. It may have taken seven LP’s but the group known for their childish ways, playing tunes for the fun of creativity, was forced to create music with creativity quickly disappearing. It’s a horrifying moment of self-realization, and it shows with Avey Tare’s often time’s confused, sporadic voice modifications. As he yelps at his most desperate, recollecting his thoughts on death, on Cuckoo Cuckoo, Tare shows us the true sight of horror witnessed with our two eyes and two ears; a man and band struggling with maintaining their astonishing levels of imagination through the vice of music, only to see it vanishing with the escalation of their age. As the song echoes into consciousness at its opening, a warped, disjointed voice peers through the fabric, attempting to formulate the inner-thoughts, only being able to squeak out “How I lost my boy.” Animal Collective is scared for their future. 

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