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[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Animal Collective
Strawberry Jam

Rating: 6/10 ?

September 11, 2007
When New York was undergoing its roots-rock revival a few years back via The Strokes, Interpol and the Walkmen, a neighborhood foursome of eclectics were helping redefine folk for the new century. The mischievous masqueraders behind the aptly named Animal Collective were experimenting with sounds, noises, samples and melodies, all laid over an acoustic foundation, to develop a sound that garnered them a reputation as standard bearers of the oh-so-sardonically labeled "freak-folk" movement. Such taxonomy was and is dubious, since the post-blogospheric genre is called out for artists as wildly diverse and colorful as Sufjan Stevens, Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. Aside from being a motley crew of ambitious and talented musicians, finding the ties that bind the Animal Collective may be as challenging as listening to the quartet's latest release, Strawberry Jam.

The Collective - who individually are known as Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist and Deacon - have always pushed the limits of accessibility with their music. Their objectives have been far-reaching, with decidedly mixed results, as reflected by their disparate and prolific back catalog. Animal Collective is a band with so many ideas vying for space that their output is rather kaleidoscopic. When things are in focus, like on Sung Tongs, they can be awfully stimulating; likewise on the brooding Feels, where they beamed up a tasteful array of organic flavors.

On Strawberry Jam, however, the Collective's aspirations come off as bland and blurry, as if aspiration alone was the sole goal for this jam, spread out over three quarters of an hour. The problem partly lies in the album's expanded dynamics. Expanded, at least, in comparison to their earlier work, which was generally restrained, allowing the Collective's creative juices to develop a rhythmic flow, rather than a hurried gush. No matter how determined the Animals were, the tide remained at a level that could sweep the listener away, like floating down an ethereal river, surrounded by craggy canyons. Strawberry Jam, on the other hand, delivers a much bigger surge of sound; while there may be more displacement, it's almost like going through the wavy motions, and the end result is a sonic spill-over that is simply too exasperating to ride out.

This environment is on cue from the opening notes of the album' lead-off single, "Peacebone." The flapping synths and driving beats are a thrill ride, and there is indeed something refreshing when a folky outfit rocks out on this platform. But their unabashed energy also cuts both ways, and something is lost in the shuffle, as if they're out of their meditative orbit. This becomes more apparent as the album chugs on, and especially on the less melodic (read: grating) songs. "Chores" could be sublime if it followed the subdued acoustic path set out by earlier records, but something about a loud chorus of chanting in a whirlwind of din doesn't feel right.

When a band this overripe with ideas comes to the table, all is not lost, and Strawberry Jam has enough inner-chi to keep it afloat. Indeed Panda Bear himself has shown that successful leaps in dynamics can be made, as he so adroitly did, solo, when he went from the solitary and beautiful Young Prayer to the expansive and gorgeous Person Pitch. But while he remained true to his instincts, it appears that his little cadre is attempting to morph into a different species with this album. I am all for the evolution of the creative soul (the recently reviewed eponymous Liars is a striking example), but there is a palpable lack of gravitational pull on Strawberry Jam. Animal Collective have always sent audio waves over their own distinct frequency, but Strawberry Jam feels too remote, untethered from their core Animal spirit.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro



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