Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam

Animal Collective
Strawberry Jam

Pop music is marred by impermanence. Sure, we’d be fooling ourselves to believe anything is eternal, but the genre, at times, seems to exist just outside of its listeners’ periphery. Turn your head to try to catch a glance upon its fleeting mystique and flash! It’s gone. There’s an overpowering urge to stay current and to maintain hipness, to straddle the cutting edge for as long as public or critical favorability grants. It sells records, but it creates a void. That void exists in every idea which never had the opportunity to be fleshed out into something greater; there’s a veritable wasteland brimming with the skeletons of ideas and tangents not yet fully explored. Because of this, pop albums lack intrinsic depth and rarely age into much more than museums, constructs in which one can view bygone trends and temporal aesthetics. With all that said, Strawberry Jam is an album staunchly at odds with ephemera, and therein lies its significance. Rather than implement a musical object just to discard it moments later, the group extends it out to its breaking point, exhausting each individual phrase to arrive at a sense of fulfilling completion.

The album possesses a remarkable consciousness not only of itself but of the pop music which precedes it. They seem to have come to enjoy a distinct ability to zoom out on the genre to view a greater picture of which most of us only see mere pixels. For this recording, they removed themselves from the entire sphere of the genre, and know what they heard? Bum, bum, bum, bum… The slight resonance of a collective beat, a plodding rhythm so pervasive in the genre. They observed and internalized the indelible throbbing of pop, deconstructed it to its most indivisible fragments, and built Strawberry Jam around the results. Its fingerprints are all over the record – the first thing you hear once lead track and first single “Peacebone” settles into its own entrancing groove is a persistent beat which carries the song through a barrage of electronic bubbling and an off-kilter narrative dappered up by the derangement everyone’s come to expect from the group. Skip to any song on the album for similar results, though the means used aren’t always percussive; repetition is utilized to broaden the reach of keyboards, guitars, voices, and a bevy of electronic sounds. They labor together without conflict to lay a concrete ground for the lyrical abstractions Animal Collective wouldn’t be complete without. For example, “Unsolved Mysteries” moves from mentions of “nostalgia’s pond” to menacing sharks and finally to a surprise personality: Jack the Ripper! It feels impossible to explain, but it’s just this type of abstruse vocalizations that offer proper balance to the unyielding nature of the music.

The songs all sounds very spacey (in particular, “#1” channels Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air for the ethereal tones of space itself for an expansive journey) but, at the same time, they achieve a visceral forcefulness necessary in remaining interesting. Listened to while lounging and laying about, it’s entrancing and time-distorting. Listened to while doing an activity like walking, and it’s absolutely propulsive while still possessing a bewitching charm. You find your footsteps slavishly attempting to accommodate the beats in “Peacebone” or “For Reverend Green” as you walk along, your most common perambulation sprinkled with space dust and transformed into a fantastic voyage.

This album is a collection of emphatic, ritualistic meditations on rhythm and repetition. Whereas Feels pilfered pages from the Book of Pop and cut them into crude yet vividly animated paper dolls, Strawberry Jam opts to Xerox cadenced phrases and present them as a cosmic flip book, proffering to the listener a thousand pulsating glances at the same image until a nebulous, hallucinatory trance develops. Due to its extreme use of repetition and electronics, it forgoes much of the curious, daydream-esque dynamic which had dominated previous Collective releases, but what has been assembled here is an astute, entrancing deconstruction of pop music. Highly and happily recommended to all.