posted on November 03, 2007 19:00
A review of the album 'Strawberry Jam' by Animal Collective
Review Snapshot: The Animal Collective- they'll always call a spade a frog. "Strawberry Jam" is a collection of left field quirky pop songs that drag you kicking and screaming into their world.
The Cluas Verdict? 6.99 out of 10
John Lennon famously dissed Avant-Garde as the French for b**sh*t. He dissed it in one breath and then he foisted the truly ugly "Revolution 9" on to the world, in the process nearly shipwrecking the White Album, the Beatles' best. I take a kinder view - Avant Garde represents a licence to make noise. Some bands yak about it, some wear the teeshirt, some bands just do it.
It's a rare boast but in these dull times the Animal Collective are about as avant-garde and leftfield as you can get. To coin a phrase of James Joyce, this band put their collective hats on with a shoehorn. "Strawberry Jam", their latest, is a musical tightrope walk. On the one hand their songs feature layers and layers of discordant sound, scrubbed synths, dislocated beats -think Autechre but a bit further out there. For luck add lyrics written by Ivor Cutler on a funny one. The crowning glory here are really simple melodies that could have been written and sung by a nine year old with a kiddy falsetto - we're talking Brian Wilson in a fireman's uniform c. "Smile".
If it resembles anything "Strawberry Jam" is Beefheart's "Troutmask Replica" but with tunes. Its sound is narrow and concentrated, there's barely room to breathe, never mind move. It's pre adolescent music created totally for its own sake - at times it sounds like the first time the band have used instruments- but "Strawberry Jam" is also incredibly focussed and disciplined. The Animal Collective may sound a shambles but they're a very organised shambles.
"Peacebone" is the album's kicking opener. Imagine radio static thumping into your forehard, a kind of synthesised firefly fuzz, it kicks around your cranium and is on the point of driving you over the edge till it just about morphs into something resembling a melody. Before you know it you're wrapped in a hallucinogenic cross breed of ELO's "Mr Blue Skies" and the middle eight of the Fab Four's "A day in the life". From its first notes till its loping drumbeat closer "Peacebone" is a surrealist guilty pleasure. The rest of the album, particularly "Unsolved Mysteries", "Chores", "Fireworks" with its dazzling Adam and the Ants drum loop, and the stunning "#1" are more of same. It's fariground music but the fairground's located on Mars. Surprisingly, given the pitfalls presented by thei ambitions, everything works here, with the possible exception of "winter wonderland", which is sluggish and lacking a decent tune. "Derek", the album's demi calypso closer, is the nearest thing here to a conventional song and song structure but even then it's barely of this earth.
"Strawberry Jam" tests its listeners without patronising them, envelopes are pushed to hte limit but at its core "Strawberry Jam" is very simple - a band writing and producing sounds that they love, that they believe in, sounds will never enter the mainstream and that will hardly raise a dime.
"Strawberry Jam" is all of these things. It's also enormous fun.
To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.