It actually feels weird to think about now, but there was a time when there would have been audible gasps—AUDIBLE GASPS!—from Animal Collective fans upon seeing them headline major global festivals. Times have changed, though. I heard "My Girls" in the Minneapolis airport. Someone, somewhere is probably getting married to that song as we speak. They are seeping into the public consciousness. Actually, they've already seeped. They now have their own weekly radio show.
When Animal Collective released Strawberry Jam in 2007, the seeds for mega-popularity were certainly there, but they weren't yet focused and distilled. It's a great album, but it's flawed too. It just never quite coheres. That said, the high moments are extremely high. Rougher and rawer and more exposed than anything that would come later on the more focused Merriweather Post Pavilion. If there's one song that can be used to define Strawberry Jam it's "Fireworks," which is about a lot of things to a lot of different people, but for me is about wanting to get older as a means of escape from whatever troubles come along with being in the middleground between established, comfortable adulthood and being a young kid. It's that agonizing stasis that AC grapple with over drums that roll and pop just like fireworks. In some ways it's a nostalgic song, playing off that ambient childhood joy that comes along with the 4th of July instrumentally—sticky watermelon faces, the promise of explosions, barbecue smell everywhere—but lyrically touching on some form of adult exhaustion:
"What's the day?" "What you doing?"/ "How's your food?" "How's that song?"/ Man it passes right by me, it's behind me, now it's gone/ And I can't lift you up cause my mind is tired, it's family beaches that I desire/ That sacred night where we watched the fireworks/ They frightened the babies and you know they've got two flashing eyes/ And if they are color blind, they make me feel, that you're only what I see sometimes./ And I can't lift you up cause my mind is tired, it's family beaches that I desire/ That sacred night where we watched the fireworks/ They frightened the babies and you know they've got two flashing eyes/ And if they are color blind, they make me feel, that I'm only what I see sometimes.
Not to get all advice columny, but recently I realized that my general life view had shifted drastically, if subtly, over the years. When I was a teenager, it felt like growing up was meant to be part of a process that ended in some form of ideal happiness. A moment where I, as an adult, could look back at what I'd done professionally, socially, emotionally and think, Yeah. This is what I always wanted from the beginning. It's a nice way to think when you're younger—that someday you'll hit a point where you can just stop striving and start enjoying with every aspect of your being. It's a very linear way of thinking, and it's unrealistic. I don't imagine I'm the only person that thought this way. In fact, it feels like the lyrics to "Fireworks" are about this exact idea—longing for a romanticized ideal from some past holiday touchstone, exhaustion in dealing with our fucked up selves and the fucked up people we get tangled up with, exhaustion with basic conversations, just general exhaustion. "Fireworks" is an unabashedly sad Animal Collective song, but it's cloaked in wisdom. It's a difficult to tap into a naive feeling with that kind of insight. It's ultimately about admitting that your view on life has been woefully unformed and being okay with that. With "Fireworks," Animal Collective proved that there's beauty to be found in hard-edged sentimentality.