Imagine Animal Collective as the Lost Boys from Peter Pan—orphaned by their babysitters and living as eternal kids on an island in their own imaginations. Strawberry Jam could only have come from a set of truly youthful minds. Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist and Deakon (all names that could exist right alongside Tootles, Nibs, Slightly Soiled and Curly) collaborate with the freedom of elementary-schoolers: one wants to be cowboys and indians, but one wants to man a spaceship, so they end up chasing each other through the future armed with bows and arrows and Colt 45s. In their hands, collaboration resists becoming a unified whole, and instead becomes a barrage of distinct voices—each tumbling over, bouncing off and clashing with the others.
Looking back, 2007 was a year of quiet successes. Generally, our favorite artists refined the things that they had always done well—and frequently ended up with career albums. Jay-Z shed his persona as a sociopathic rap juggernaut and finally dropped an album that surpassed The Blueprint. Radiohead channeled their last ten years of experimentation into an album about love and making love. James Murphy found room within his caustic rants for genuine sentiment, while Sam Beam found room within his pure sentiment for a little boogie-woogie. This kind of thing happened all over the rock landscape, and 2007 rolled deep. Even the also-ran albums—Good Bad Not Evil, The Flying Club Cup, Graduation, The Big Doe Rehab, Double Up, to name a few—all packed a mean punch.
Amongst all these quiet successes, a shitstorm of brand new ideas sticks out dramatically. Strawberry Jam may not match the consistency of any other album in our Top 30, but it brims over with youthful exuberance and experimentation where 2007’s other offerings feel studiously conservative. When it succeeds, it does so loudly—the album’s best moments sound unlike anything else in pop music.
Yes, *pop* music. It may seem strange to label Animal Collective with that adjective, but Strawberry Jam—at its best—wrestles with the limits of accessibility. “For Reverend Green” has Avey Tare frequently bursting into screams. Each scream simultaneously interrupts and punctuates the lines. It’s a virtuosic performance—one whose potential abrasiveness gets offset by the folksy melody and the buoyant backing “Whoo-hoo-hoo”s. “Fireworks,” the subsequent track, begins with a propulsive march of a drumbeat and similarly precocious “Whoo”s before launching into the album’s catchiest song—it builds from a singsong melody to a series of yelps, then jumps back to melody. Back-to-back they give the one-two punch of Sound of Silver’s “Someone Great” and “All My Friends” a run for its money.
“For Reverend Green” and “Fireworks” showcase Animal Collective at the height of their powers—raucous and loose, propulsive and dynamic, fearless. The rest of the album aims for similar grandiosity. While it’s hard to top the 13 minute centerpiece of those two songs, it’s constantly fun hearing them try. The songs often use simple, catchy verses to build and sustain a rhythm before exploding into surprising fits of music. Frequently, they manage to create stunning moments—most notably on the album closer, “Derek,” which transforms from a goofy jingle into a stadium-sized stomping chant of “When you count/ when you count/ when you count/ when you count/ count on me/ count on me/ count on me/ count on me.”
Though the members of Animal Collective tug and fight for creative space throughout Strawberry Jam, they all seem to take on the perspective of a pre-pubescent kid. A new type of pop music could only come from that mind—uncluttered, obnoxious, sweet, optimistic, playful, abrasive, and honest; lost, maybe, but not in any hurry to be found.
-Marty Brown, 2008