Wild Mercury Sound
Animal Collective's "Strawberry Jam"
I'm starting today with "Strawberry Jam", the new album by the Animal Collective, and it's quite a thing of joy. "For Reverend Green" is playing as I write (the Reverend Al, perhaps?), and it's pretty typical of the album (their seventh, perhaps). Over rippling noise and tribal patter, they lay a kind of kindergarten sing-song that has a passionate, ingenuous, euphoric quality. It's a pop song, born out of the avant-garde, and the Animal Collective are a pop group who've kept an experimental imperative. I love them.
Over the past year or so, it seems a heartening number of people do, too. They play fairly big venues in London now when they visit, and the amount of blog heat on "Strawberry Jam" two months upfront of its release suggests they've become one of those bands that excite people (OK, putative music hacks) who are always on the lookout for new music which pushes that little bit further.
What I think Animal Collective deserve, though, is to be embraced by all those Flaming Lips fans. I never really see the appeal of groups who copy the Lips with some ersatz notion of the weird, but the Animal Collective move those ideas on a good few steps. Again, this is music which is self-consciously out-there, often rather cute in its pursuit of a wide-eyed childlike state, unafraid of electronic business and, still, accessible pop music; what's not to love?
If you've been following the band's trajectory these past few years, "Strawberry Jam" continues on a fairly lucid trajectory from the dissolute strums of "Campfire Songs", through to the manic folk-pop of "Sung Tongs", onto the fractionally more electronic "Feels". This one has a lot more disorienting synth textures and distortion underpinning the tunes, occasionally recalling their earlier and more abrasive records like "Here Comes The Indian" as well as main guy Panda Bear's recent solo album, "Person Pitch" (The Beach Boys gone ambient techno, crudely).
But at the same time, as the seasick noise has been ramped up, these are the brashest and most immediate pop songs the Collective have yet come up with. "Peacebone" and the album might begin with skittering, insectivorous electronic skree, but a heady thump ushers in a fantastically catchy tune, albeit one that's more capricious and charmed than what we're normally used to. By the end of "Chores", as they urge us to "take a walk out in the light drizzle", it feels as if the Animal Collective are oscillating between rapacious energy and a hazy dream state, between pop hyperactivity and leftfield dislocation. It is, I think, a lovely place to hang out.