This collective of Brooklyn-based, Baltimore-born musical animals have made an album that makes me feel like I’m eating cotton candy. More precisely, an exquisitely flavorful, almost overpowering bite of rainbow-flavored cotton candy eaten during at an extraordinarily noisy day at the zoo, a zoo full of hormone-charged monkeys, scorching heat, and screaming elementary schoolchildren.This experimental indie psych-pop/noise-rock band’s release is a dense album, full of indie-pop gems drenched in a mad scientist’s digital manipulation, soaring, nearly unintelligible vocals and an impressive range of instrumentation.
Comprised of multi-instrumentalists/processors/programmers Avery Tare, Geologist, Panda Bear, and Deakin, Animal Collective have been making generally confusing digitally-infused pop since the early 2000s in their native Baltimore.
It wasn’t until their 2005 release, “Feels” (Fat Cat Records), though, that the band received some much-needed recognition. Garnering extensive critical acclaim, the album led to an extended tour and a spot on the Domino Records catalog.
“Strawberry Jam” was released September 11, 2007 on Domino, following an online leak of the recording in March. With “Strawberry Jam,” though, Animal Collective has allowed one of their weakest links, Tare’s electronically manipulated-vocals, to become the album’s driving force.
In songs like the album-opener “Peacebone,” the listener is treated to bubbling electronic beeps and driving Arcade Fire-like orchestration.
Right off the bat, though, Tare’s vocals are showcased with pseudo-nonsense lines like, “My Peace Bone got found in a dinosaur wing/like jumping all over for my views are slowly shrinking/it was a jugular vein in a juggler’s girl/it was supposedly leaking the most interesting colors.”
This leads into a great chorus of “We want you inside/because you’re inside.” Truth be told, the band Animal Collective has never been too highly prized for its lyricism. With this album, though, the quartet has decided to place increasing emphasis on showcasing Tare’s improved vocal range and particularly interesting subject matter.
The album’s single, “Fireworks,” kicks off with a galloping electronically-manipulated drum pattern accompanied by melodious chanting, leading into a daydreaming Tare belting, “Now it’s day/I’ve been trying/to get that taste off my tongue/I was dreaming of horseshoes/now my cereal, it is warm.”
Cantering along, the song’s rhythms lead to the ultimate instrumental on-ramp. The electronics are quietly extinguished, various jungle sounds are substituted in, and a solid bass drum drops four on the floor.
It is when Tare sings, “I’ve been eating with a good friend/he said the genie made me a little earth skin/in spite of her she is my birth kin/she spits me out in her surrogate river!” that we can finally relax, tap our feet, and say “Animal Collective, you make me feel like dancing with a multi-colored Giant Panda!”
With song titles like “Unsolved Mysteries”, “For Reverend Green” and “Winter Wonder Land”, Animal Collective is not afraid of being one of the only new indie-pop bands to actually release something that, while not exactly the easiest of listening, is daring, happy, and worthwhile.
Here is a pop gem that takes equal cues from acid-dropping Wayne Coyne, electronic mastermind Steve Reich, and a good-natured bit of Barnum and Bailey. I think the best analogy to use is this: If normal indie rock was some pretty good organic wheat bread, Animal Collective would be that jam you spread on top — syrupy, rich, and basically irresistible.