Ever had a childhood? Honest question. Quite a few people don't. Those who do probably don't remember. The rest probably either A) Refuse to grow up, thus sending their lives into a downward spiral of never ending wants and needs without any satisfaction, or B) Live out their childhood fantasies well into their adulthood, typically through their work or by way of an immense cash flow. Thankfully, Animal Collective fall into the latter category, and it's even better that they exhibit their vivid nostalgia for their younger years through their music. Panda Bear shot the first salvo of 2007 when he dropped the critical darling, Person Pitch, a mish mash of Brian Wilson and comforting atmospheric Pop. That's album's child like qualities carry over to Animal Collective's latest offering, Strawberry Jam, giving focus to a band that always seemed lost in itself. The result is not only their most accessible album, but also their best.
The record's intentions are laid out from start amidst the jittery thump of the opener, "Peacebone": "And an obsession with the past is like a kid flying / Just a few things are related to the old times / When we did believe in magic and we didnít die / It's not my words that you should follow, it's your insight". This record isn't just about being a kid, it's about the imagination of a kid. We all had dreams of worlds we wished were in when we were young, whether it was playing with Power Ranger weapons, dressing up like Batman, or having an imaginary friend. When you're a kid, you always wished you weren't, and now that you've grown up, you often get that fleeting feeling that things never worked out like you hoped they would and you want to go back to the simpler times. Strawberry Jam does just that. For 44 minutes, you're brought back into that phantasmic dreamworld you created in your youth. Magic is real. People don't die. You're the hero and damsel is no longer distressed. And at once, all is right with the world.
In a time where certain doom lurks around every corner, people in authority protect their own interests instead of the citizens they rule over, and every artist is up to their sunken eyeballs in melancholy, it's an absolute pleasure to hear albums like Strawberry Jam and Person Pitch cut through the despair with ears plugged and eyes closed. These are innocent records in a world of crime and corruption. They point the listener toward the endless sky instead of a downtrodden ditch. It's almost revolutionary idea these days, to choose joy over despondency. Strawberry Jam isn't some sort of absurd call to arms though. It's about saying "You know what, fuck this. I don't want to deal with this weight on my shoulders anymore," and promptly sticking your head in the clouds. "Winter Wonder Land" proclaims this ideal thought proudly: "But inside I'm okay / I can live without your dying / Where snowmen never melt / Instead they always shine".
Animal Collective take their sound into a more Electronica oriented realm to achieve their lofty goals. Atmospheric swirling and reverb meld with free wheeling freak outs, and while initial listens may not reveal the difference between this and any of their preceding records, the variation is there. Rest assured, Animal Collective is among the most unique bands today and this isn't their sell out moment. They've progressed in a far more melodious direction than early skeptics (like myself) thought they would go, giving form to a once formless behemoth of sound. The Panda Bear/Person Pitch influence is much more evident here than ever before and it suits the adolescent material superbly. The harsh vocals are still present and they act like a cold bucket of water to the face. While at first they're startling (as Animal Collective typically is to the unsuspecting listener), eventually you come to enjoy such a cool relief encompassed by such warm and inviting sounds. You'll ultimately understand the departures in songwriting as necessary components in capturing your attention and soothing your tensions, and before you know it, you'll be locked up in a state of cathartic sentimentality.
And I can't hold what's in my hand.
Don't do any good to say this isn't what I planned.
And little kids slide down on steel park slides.
Little kids can't play with things that died.
Sometimes all I want's one favorite song,
And two to three minutes don't seem so long.
And where's my mom, I wanna hold her tight.
She's so far away from crowded nights.
- "Cuckoo Cuckoo"
That's life in the big city, ain't it. We see kids, they see us, they want to be us and we want to be them. For many, it's an unbreakable cycle. For those in possession of Strawberry Jam though, there's an escape. For just a little while there's a loop in time, a getaway from the pressure of that "real world" your parents always threatened you with when you refused to do your chores. These are nursery rhymes for people too old to hear nursery rhymes, ruminations on a life that should never be forgotten. Just a few things are related to the old times when we did believe in magic and people didn't die, and this is the primary example of such a wonderful thing. You had a childhood, right? Well, Strawberry Jam's here to answer that question for you.
I get what you're saying in the review and you explain it well, but it's set up awkwardly in the beginning. Links would also be useful so I can see what you mean for myself. I found them on myspace at www.myspace.com/animalcollectivetheband . Real cracked out, at least what I heard! And it's cool they're from Baltimore. Thanks for the review.