Music Reviews
Strawberry Jam

Animal Collective Strawberry Jam

(Domino) Rating - 10/10

Just when you thought 2007 was going well in terms of new music, two of the decade's defining bands drop new albums and turn the whole year on its head. I'm talking about Animal Collective and Liars. These two experimental rock behemoths have chartered unique and fascinating courses through the 00s and are surely two of the most accomplished bands operating today. Curiously, coincidentally, if the critical consensus is to be trusted, they've both just released their big 'pop' records within one month of another. We've already established that Liars is really, really good. Could Strawberry Jam be even better still? I think so.

Fans of the Collective have already had one record to cherish (Panda Bear's Person Pitch, which for my money deserved a couple more points than the six we gave it but, hey, this site's a democracy) and one to be slightly confused by this year (Avey Tare and Kria Brekkan's Pullhair Rubeye). Strawberry Jam comfortably surpasses both.

The fun begins with Peacebone, the lead single, which sounds something like Feels' Grass on Ritalin. (At this point in their career, comparing Animal Collective to anyone other than Animal Collective is a futile act.) The melody is equally buoyant, but crisper production allows it to flourish rather than, dare I say, irritate slightly. For Reverend Green is the next major highlight. Its reverberating, delay-drenched guitars lock into a gorgeous drone which provides the backdrop for Avey Tare's most impressive vocal to date (he sings, he shouts, he screams, he murmurs nonsense...) and the trademark AC harmonies. At around the 4:40 mark the wheels sound like they're about to fly off, only for the band to tighten it all up for a thrilling finale.

After this, I'd have settled for filler. Instead the band offers up Fireworks, perhaps its strongest, most fully realised track to date. Featuring inventive percussion, another cracking Avey vocal, more enthusiastic harmonies and an inspired change of pace three minutes in, this classic centrepiece arguably makes for 2007's most rewarding seven minutes of new music.

Strawberry Jam's final four tracks are less immediate, but no less impressive. The eerie Cuckoo Cuckoo is the record's most overtly experimental moment, sounding unlike anything in the AC catalogue with its sombre piano and jarring bursts of noise. Crucially, it works, which is even more impressive. #1 displays a more subtle approach to innovation, a swirling, multilayered soundscape that's propelled to a higher level by Panda Bear's soaring vocals. Winter Wonder Land sounds like a traditional indie-rock band put through a blender, where as the whimsical, folky Derek offers a refreshingly different finale, raising an intriguing question: what next for Animal Collective?

But that's for another day. For now let's just bask in the glory of Strawberry Jam, 2007's strongest album so far.