CD Review of Strawberry Jam by Animal Collective
Recommended if you like
Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev,
Julian Cope
Animal Collective:
Strawberry Jam

Reviewed by Michael Fortes


here was a band in the late 1960s, called Spirit, that was once on the cutting edge when they became one of the earliest and most daring groups to employ the Moog synthesizer on a psychedelic rock record. They opened side two of their brilliant fourth album with an instrumental called “Space Child,” which served as the perfect soundtrack for a pot-fueled daydream in the middle of the night…or something. Goofy sounding Moog melodies intertwined with acoustic piano and a swinging, jazzy beat…it was all so groovy back in 1970!

Twenty years later, a couple of guys holed themselves up in a barn with some Scotchgard and a four-track. Dean and Gene Ween took some of that druggy hippie aesthetic, added heaping truckloads of irreverent and politically incorrect humor, and crazy lo-fi productions.

Move ahead another decade or so, and we hear the next evolutionary step in the sound of rock music’s relationship with drug-fueled imagination. Not to imply anything untoward about the members of Animal Collective, but the sounds this band makes seem to be derived from the druggy experimentalism of the ‘60s, or perhaps Ween without the obnoxious humor and with speed in place of Scotchgard. There’s always some extraneous, non-musical element passing beneath the melodies of the songs on their latest full-length release, Strawberry Jam. The opener, “Peacebone,” is replete with machine-gun synth notes, “Unsolved Mysteries” employs water sounds and other jarring musical effects beneath an insistent acoustic guitar rhythm (the whole thing collapses into a pile of rhythmic noise, by the way), and “Chores” is the aural equivalent of vomiting on a roller coaster ride, only the vomit lands on someone else’s face and clothes, not your own. “Now I’ve got these chores / I’m not gonna hurt no one” -- except with projectile vomit, of course.

And in yet another strange twist, “For Reverend Green” evokes none of the expected Al Green’s vibes, though it does bear some resemblance to Mission of Burma’s “Tremolo” – you know, that obnoxious tremoloed electric guitar serving as the basis for an entire song. And then there’s “#1” (coming in at track number six), with a rapidly descending keyboard riff, and vocals that sound like they’re coming from a shaky cassette being played on a deck with slipping rollers. And it just goes on and on.

For a 10-track set, these songs seem a lot longer than they really are. Four of them are in excess of five minutes each, and while the rest are a typical three to four minutes apiece, the lack of variation within each selection provides the illusion of their being twice as long.

Perhaps if I was smoking a lot of dope I’d have given this disc a higher rating. But then, the only words you’d have gotten from me would have been “Dude, this is awesome!” Which is to say, this disc takes a lot of patience to digest. And once it’s digested, will you toss it aside like that old video game you mastered so many years ago, or will you keep going back to experience the journey? I’m banking on the former.

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