There’s something queasy about Animal Collective when they get going; a churning, glint-eyed momentum that represents the dark side of their slow-build bliss-outs. ‘For Reverend Green’ splits this album in half, pulled along by Avey Tare’s vocal explosions and a bobbing mess of organ and guitars. Sweet ‘ooooh-ooohs’ honey the mix, a counterpoint to Tare’s hyperventilating yowls: “Now I think it’s alright to feel inhuman now!” It’s astonishing and disturbing at once, like being stuck in a locked room with someone on hallucinogens.
Their proximity to the folk ‘revival’ means that some people doubtless wrote Animal Collective off long ago as a bunch of insufferable hippie stoners, and that’s a shame. There’s nothing regressive about what this band do; and if Panda Bear’s solo album earlier this year was not enough to alert listeners to the fact that there’s more to Animal Collective than free-form improvisation, then Strawberry Jam provides further evidence. Their wildest moments are quite deliberate; there’s a pop sensibility at work here, though their talent is in managing to disguise it rather well.’For Reverend Green’ colours several of the album’s other tracks, including ‘Fireworks’, which follows directly on, taking those sugary, Beach Boys-esque vocal ‘oooohs’ to new levels of diabetic threat. And then the seagull cries come in and it all goes a little… wonky. Once again, however, its the rhythm section that keeps the whole thing together, the band’s favourite trick being to hold fast to a beat as if it were a centrifugal force, letting all manner of noises flutter out from it.Strawberry Jam lacks some of the wonder that made Animal Collective’s earliest records – Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished; Danse Manatee – such gnomic, compelling documents, though you can sense them wanting to get back to this – what would it be – lightness of touch? Sometimes the weird faces of Strawberry Jam feel put on. But there are moments of great musical pleasure here.