Thursday, September 13, 2007

Little Blurbs

Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
(Domino, 2007)

"Chores" (mp3)

Animal Collective are back with yet another album to add to their increasingly prolific career, and while Nicole's review is more than enough to represent our blog (and gives the better score), we decided early on that if an album is released that more than one contributer feels the need to write about it, then so be it. If nothing else, the fact that both Nicole and I had to write something about this album should speak volumes about just how good this album is (and be on the lookout for a third review as well). The more time I spend with it, the more I think it just might be the best album released under the Animal Collective name, no small feat considering I've held Sung Tongs pretty dear to me for the past three or so years since its release.

The main reason why: Strawberry Jam is home to some of the Collective's most accessible songs. Sure, lyrics like "bulimic vegetarian wins weight contest" or "the other side of takeout is mildew on rice" might turn off the masses, but musically, Strawberry Jam is probably best described as, dare I say it, Animal Collective's pop album. Which is fine with me, its not like the Collective are not unfamiliar with pop song, as evidenced by such standout tracks like "Who Could Win a Rabbit" and "Grass" from Sung Tongs and Feels respectively.

But remember, this is not a pop album, just Animal Collective's pop album, which means, unless of course you are totally unfamiliar with Animal Collective, you should find some familiarity in this Strawberry's jams. In that regard, Strawberry Jam reminds me of when Kid A was released almost seven years ago. Many of Radiohead's fans complained that the album was not as good as their prior works, mainly because guitars were conspicuously absent throughout much of the album. While there's no arguing that many of those fans never came back, others did finally warm up to the album when they eventually realized that the songs were still good, it was only the instruments that were different.

The same can be said for Strawberry Jam. Say goodbye to the comfy and warm acoustic sounds of Sung Tongs, or the faucet drip minimalism that makes up most of Feels' second half. This time around the Collective rely heavily on synths, sequencers, and sample, while electric guitars are often relegated to the background. The album, like their predecessors, is also densely layered, but now the bass is more in the mix than ever before. The song "Chores", may be the best example; the song is a psychedelic headphone head trip with pounding drums, vocal chants, and swirling samples. And that's just the first half of the song, we haven't even got to the part where it transforms into a campfire disco party. Yes, I'm serious, but they pull it off flawlessly.

The exciting part about listening to Strawberry Jam, for me at least, is that I never once got the feeling like Animal Collective have outdone themselves. Whether or not I'm right remains to be seen, but there's no doubt that for now, in 2007, Animal Collective are certainly out pacing the competition.

Shout Out Louds - Our Ill Wills

(Merge, 2007) 61.0%
"Blue Headlights" (mp3)

The Shout Out Louds' sophomore album picks up where the first left off. The pop Belle & Sebastian-esque pop sensibilities remain intact, and singer Adam Olenius sounds as much like Robert Smith as ever before. There are some fine songs on the album, notably "Blue Headlights," which sees multi-instrumentalist Bebban Stenborg taking over lead vocal, and the album's closing track "Hard Rain", which could be mistaken for a long lost Anniversary track if not for the Sweedish accents.

As a whole, Our Ill Wills is not a bad album, the album does the indie-pop/indie-rock thing very well. It's biggest offense is that it winds up sounding so much like the Cure or Belle & Sebastian at times that I wonder why I shouldn't be listening to, well, you know where I'm going with this one. Perhaps with a broader scope of inspiration, or more lead vocals from Stenborg, this album might have struck me a little more. But alas, twas not meant to be.

The Go! Team - Proof of Youth
(Sub Pop, 2007)

"Titanic Vandalism" (mp3)

The Go! Team's follow up to the surprise indie smash Thunder, Lightning, Strike appears to rely on the hope that lightning can indeed strike the same place twice. Unfortunately, Proof of Youth offers very little new to The Go! Team's sonic pallet, its almost like they followed the Hollywood formula of making a sequel (make the same movie, but with more). Thunder, Lightning Strike was not exactly original, bands had been making rock and hip-hop music over samples for decades before The Go! Team came along. The reason their debut worked so well was because the songs on Thunder sounded both a little bit old and new. Ninja's raps were recited like schoolyard chants and, of course, cheerleader cadences, and musically it often sounded as if Team captain Ian Parton was channeling his inner Kevin Shields.

The problem with Proof of Youth is that it is more or less the same album. The songs aren't bad, but instead of sounding fresh they come off as formulaic. However, there are a couple of notable exceptions. Both "Fake ID" and "I Never Need it Now So Much" evoke a masked twee pop sensibility while retaining an edge that feels natural to The Go! Team, preventing either song from sounding like copycats. In "Fake ID", it's a distorted punk guitar riff that masks the glockenspiels, making you wonder why Deerhoof and Camera Obscura never teamed up for an album, while the wall-of-percussion sound (which now seems like a Go! Team trademark) helps "I Never Need it Now So Much" fit in with the rest of the album's sampledelic pastiche. Both songs offer hope that Proof of Youth may only be a sophomore slump and not the beginnings of a band with nothing left to do but imitate themselves.

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