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ANIMAL COLLECTIVE & r & Strawberry Jam & r & 4 Stars & r & & r & Animal Collective's Strawberry Jam is the type of album that is becoming archaic in the ever-strengthening age of the single. With no one song overpowering the others and all certifiably great in their own regard, Strawberry Jam is best enjoyed in its entirety.

Not sedate by any means, the music soars with the organized, symbiotic chaos that only the likes of Animal Collective can get away with. It's driven, intense, as if all of life's major events have been encapsulated on one album. You conquer, you love, you break and swell and rebuild and heal.

Perhaps most impressive is that Animal Collective, despite seven years of consummate strangeness, hasn't yet lost the ability to produce a surprising and creatively charged album. This is, by far, the best album of the group's career. It's one of the year's best as well.


DOWNLOAD: "Fireworks"


Cease To Begin

3 Stars

Band of Horses is, for better or worse, what one would expect from the "Seattle Sound." It's as if Built To Spill and the Shins have their own ankle-biter. Horses' success has much to do with the magic touch of producer Phil Ek who has produced records by the aforementioned as well as by Northwest staples Modest Mouse and Mudhoney, among others.

Band of Horses manages to channel the musical conversation these bands started roughly 10 years ago. Which feels both good and bad -- good, in the sense that Modest Mouse and the Shins have gone on to more experimental albums, and Cease To Begin remains to fill in the gap left for fans of straight-ahead indie rock. But bad in the same way: Cease feels a gap-filler.

The problem is that Band of Horses comes off like a West Coast version of Interpol: They write tunes that are catchy but sterile.


DOWNLOAD: "Marry Song"

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