On latest album Strawberry Jam, freak-rock foursome Animal Collective successfully navigates a path that has tripped up many an experimental outfit: The Brooklyn-based band nudges noticeably toward the musical mainstream—or at least the indie version of said in 2007—without sacrificing the sonic quirks that have made it a favorite of avant music lovers for the better part of a decade.
The group, comprising the wonderfully named Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin and Geologist, accomplishes the feat by using the poppier cuts from 2005 LP Feels, namely “Grass” and “The Purple Bottle,” as a launching point. Gone (mostly) are the noisy workouts from previous efforts Sung Tongs and Here Comes the Indian, in their place intricately looped and layered and still far from ordinary—yet suddenly markedly melodic—songs. As in, songs you might actually sing along to (who wouldn’t want to warble with Tare on lines like “It was a jugular vein in a juggler’s girl”?) and maybe even bust out on your own later in the day.
Imagine where Brian Wilson might have journeyed post-Smile had his squarish Beach Boys partners not stood between him and truckloads more acid, and you begin to get a feel for Animal Collective’s fantastical new psych-pop direction. The disc’s nine tracks only seem to get better with age, a promising prognostication considering Strawberry Jam already tastes like album-of-the-year material.