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Several excellent side and solo projects have been issued by members of Animal Collective since their rightly lauded Feels in 2005, most notably from Panda Bear and Avey Tare, but if fears that the group, legendarily loose, might find its sound scattered and its members sonically isolated, fear not:

Strawberry Jam is the tightest and most self-assured album from Animal Collective yet.

Though Avery Tare’s voice is all over the disc, Panda Bear’s private aesthetic, matured on his excellent recent solo album, Person Pitch, informs their new style, a density of overlapping textures and fuzz-pop melodies. As much as I loved Feels and think Sung Tongs is brilliant, I can understand the critics who felt they were occasionally slack and meandering. At the same time, I valued the sonic adventures for themselves, and if they stalled out or wound themselves into a cul-de-sac, I accepted it as a consequence of their aesthetic. By contrast, the songs on Strawberry Jam shimmer with exploratory details that support and expand the heart of every track.

From opener, “Peacebone” onward, you can sense the seachange, familiar but also new. The sounds are distinct, and the samples and sonic details are all organic to the song which is kept focused by a throbbing bassline and Avey Tare’s vocals and lyrics. My favorite line from “Peacebone” is, “But the monster was happy when we made him a maze/ Cause he don’t understand intentions he just looks at your face.”

“For Reverend Green,” begins with a very catchy opening, reminiscent of “Turn Into Something” from Feels, and includes the first true shout-along of the album:

Now I think it’s alright we’re together
Now I think that’s alright yeah
Now I think it’s the best you’ve ever played it
Now I think that’s alright yeah
Now I think it’s alright to feel inhuman
Now I think that’s alright yeah
Now I think it’s alright to sing together
Now I think that’s alright yeah

Listening to the chorus, every time Avey gets to the part where he shouts, “Now I think it’s alright to feel inhuman/Now,” I beam inside-out. Whether this is animal pleasure or not, I don’t know, but the proximity between human/inhuman and the animal/man appears in many of the album’s lyrics. (I could speculate on this theme and the prevalence of food imagery and their relationship as part of the same motif, but this isn’t school).

“Cuckoo Cuckoo” and “Derek,” the last two tracks, are good examples of how Animal Collective makes brilliant use of percussive sounds. Even the vocal element sounds percussive on “Cuckoo Cuckoo.” The final song, “Derek” comes across the most like an outtake from Panda Bear’s last album. When the marching drums kick in at the song’s midpoint the sheer excitement, the pent up intensity of the album seems to find a natural culmination without exhausting the listener, so that when the familiar hum of “Peacebone” begins, I am ready to begin the whole listening experience over without pausing for an aural breath.

Animal Collective tour dates are listed below. I’ll be at the Fillmore show in San Francisco tonight with Tuffy and will write a review of the show and any drunken lunacy that may ensue.

Upcoming Shows

( view all )

Sep 17 2007



the Fillmore

San Francisco, California

Sep 18 2007



Henry Fonda Theater

Los Angeles

Sep 20 2007



the Rialto Theater

Tuscon, Arizona

Sep 21 2007



club 101

EL PASO, Texas

Sep 22 2007




Austin, Texas

Sep 23 2007



Bricktown Ballroom

Norman, Oklahoma

Sep 24 2007



Gargoyle Club

St. Louis, Missouri

Sep 25 2007



Cannery Ballroom

Nashville, Tennessee

Sep 26 2007



Variety Playhouse

Atlanta, Georgia

Sep 27 2007



Cat’s Cradle

Carrboro, North Carolina

Sep 28 2007



9:30 Club

Washington, Washington DC

Sep 29 2007



Starlight Ballroom

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sep 30 2007



Webster Hall

New York, New York

Oct 1 2007



Webster Hall

New York, New York



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