Release Date: May 5, 2009
Record label: Dead Oceans
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Experimental
Even before their arrival with Young God Records in 2005, Akron/Family was deep into the experiments. The self-titled debut was relatively placid, highlighting harmonies and the band’s ability to play with folk traditions (and philosophy slogans). On a follow-up split with Angels of Light (where they backed Michael Gira) the band became rowdier, peaking with “Raising the Sparks”.
Akron/Family have been mislabeled one way or another for as long as they've been around. Freak-folk, post-rock, neo-psych -- none of these descriptions is really accurate, and yet there's at least a grain of truth in each of them. That's because they've pursued a truly syncretic approach from the beginning, forging a sound that finds equal space for folk, avant-jazz, stoner-friendly beard-rock, free-form freakouts, and more.
"MBF" is every bit as crackly and proggy as Yes in the middle of a wide-open live jam -- complete with a Chris Squire seal-of-approval bass pattern. "Many Ghosts" is a nursery rhyme cum country song with strings, harpsichords, and elegiac rock overtones, all of them sweet and tender. They get underscored with a Jack Nitzsche-esque wordless vocal and string chorus for a few seconds as a bridge and handclaps join it a few seconds later.
The departure of Ryan Vanderhoof has reduced freak-folk heroes Akron/Family to a trio, but don't assume that means they've trimmed down their expansive and textured sonic freak-outs. In fact, they seem to have gone in the other direction, discovering their inner prog rockers and generally amping everything up. [rssbreak] Their rock side is louder and more aggressive, their folk excursions gentler, and the experimental aspects weirder and wilder.
When they appeared on (or in parallel with) the “freak-folk” scene a few years back, Akron/Family seemed like unashamedly retro, flowers-in-their-beards kinds of fellows. The biggest surprise is that they’re now a trio – given the massive sound of many of the songs here, and superb ensemble-playing you’d think would take an entire Incredible String Band. That’s a fair reference point, because the arrangements dart between acoustic folk and 70s-style prog (when it still had one foot in the blues).
Like Parliament or Red Krayola before them, Akron/Family's career path is so varied and unexpected it's silly to expect their albums to represent growth or progression. So on a superficial level the main differences between Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free and Akron's previous work is the departure of Ryan Vanderhoof (who left after recording Love Is Simple) and that they're now releasing those strained analogies on Dead Oceans instead of Michael Gira's Young God. Anybody worried that it was Gira's skeletal hand that was keeping the Family weird can rest easy.
Brooklyn freak-folk collective unleashes its latest curiosity from the creative edge the continuum between the Grateful Dead’s more pastoral, American Beauty-era material and Pink Floyd’s post-Syd/pre-Dark Siderhythmic complexity without tilting toward Vampire Weekend’s polymath pretensions. What emerges from Set ’em Wild, Set ’em Free is the realization that Akron/Family is maddeningly unknowable and, essentially, a product of all these influences rolled up into one gigantic, take-it-or-leave-it stringball. .
CIARA“Fantasy Ride”(LaFace/Zomba) There’s nothing solid about Ciara, the sinewy Atlanta R&B singer whose whisper has floated above and dripped onto some of the most crooked soul music of the last five years. Invariably, though, those songs were more emphatic than Ciara is. Like liquid — or ….
Perhaps it is due to our country’s evangelical roots or our monarchic origins or maybe the Western conception of a single truth, but we live in a culture that has an incredibly difficult time conceptualizing bottom-up organization. In other words, it is a common thought that groups of people always need a leader to look toward for guidance. Bands are conceived of no differently; the narratives always prize a charismatic lead singer or quirky, principal songwriter over the other members.