Release Date: Feb 8, 2011
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Experimental Rock
AKRON/FAMILY play the Horseshoe February 20. See listing. Rating: NNNNN The newest release from Portland pop eccentrics Akron/Family sits somewhere between their last two albums, marrying the most successful elements of both. The intensely joyful mood recalls the unrestrained bliss of 2007's Love Is Simple, but they've kept the searing fuzz guitars and experimental blasts of noise from 2009's Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free, and without dropping the freak folk cult singalong vibe we love them for.
The grandiose title betrays an even greater (purported) mythology: New York/Portland psych-rockers Akron/Family claim to have written their fifth album in a cabin built into the base of Mount Meakan, an active Japanese volcano. But whether they really trekked to Hokkaido or just decamped in Williamsburg with some 7-Eleven sushi, the record is a ruminant, volatile effort that befits such a lurid legend. Less bucolic than 2009’s Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free, Akron/Family II shifts disquietingly from atonally screamed group chants and acidic guitars ("Fuji 1 (Global Dub)") to gentle, phosphorescent ballads celebrating nature and light ("Canopy").
‘Freak folk’ is a term that’s just begging to be overused by self-congratulating music writers, but Akron/Family are certainly a little different. They have something of a penchant for the unexpected: most of their albums feature at least one deafening freak-out moment, and in Silly Bears, the opening track on Akron Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT, I’m pretty sure I heard a dog barking to the beat. But Akron/Family’s eccentricities are exactly what make them so enjoyable - their folky roots made infinitely more interesting by way of countless layers, all vying for the listener’s attention.
Akron/Family debuted their new format as a trio minus vocalist and guitarist Ryan Vanderhoof on 2009's Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free. They also moved pointedly away from the trappings of post-psych acid folk into multiple directions simultaneously: from animistic avant-rock, freaky funk, and even prog. S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT, issued in February of 2011, solidifies that move in a surprising manner.
About that title. According to Akron/Family’s press release, ‘no, we have no idea what that means’. So that bodes well for making sense of this album, then… In the best possible way, S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT is a very daft album indeed. Opener ‘Silly Bears’, dedicated to all the fun and frivolity of Friday night socialising, is quite literally asking bears where they found their honey.
The background information provided with Akron/Family’s S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT would have you believe it’s the group’s most, well, startlingly cosmic offering yet. Not that 2009’s Set `Em Wild, Set `Em Free was all sun-kissed harmonies and acoustic guitars (recall the album’s climax, where “Sun Will Shine”’s majestic chorus—“The sun will shine / And I won’t hide!”—suddenly warps into ambient noise and free jazz bleating), but the heart of that album’s charm lay in blissed-out pop strummers like “Many Ghosts” and “Set `Em Free”. But S/T II—the group’s second since signing to Dead Oceans, and since the 2007 departure of founding member Ryan Vanderhoof to life in a Buddhist Dharma center—promises to be different.
In the pantheon of oddball origin stories, the legend of Akron/Family's fifth LP should rank high: After a slew of ignored deadlines, a cardboard box containing "four blown out song fragments on a TDK CDR in a ziplock bag, three pictures, and a typewritten note" landed on Dead Oceans' doorstep along with a "sincere but poorly made diorama. " (The note contained helpful phrases such as "Do Not Erase / I Was Ak / Flourish. Flourish.
They haven’t forgotten how to write a decent tune. Famously chaotic musical magpies Dana Janssen, Seth Olinsky and Miles Seaton have outdone themselves here in concocting an album almost as enigmatic as its title. The freak-folk trio, having expanded their sonic palette after a stint as Michael Gira’s backing band, have added a blast of Japanese noise to their delicious early 70s rock-inspired harmonies and fractured song structures, like an unholy amalgamation of Brian Wilson and the Boredoms.
Having been set wild (and free) on their last record, it sounds like Akron/Family has disappeared. After the resilient edge and earthen stomp of 2009's Set 'em Wild, Set 'em Free, the band has gone otherworldly on S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT. The album is all about escape, and from the sound here Akron/Family has found some new haven far from anything remotely close to the real world.
Akron/Family’s new, preposterously-titled album finds them growing into the indulgences of middle age very gracefully. Whereas Meek Warrior felt like some sort of cosmic séance, S/T II finds its inspiration on terra firma. Perhaps paradoxically, the effect is that the songs are shorter and less prone to the abrupt emotional highs and lows that have made their live show famous.
Akron/Family offer up another full-length on Dead Oceans and continue loosely with the trajectory (or restless non-trajectory) they initiated on 2009’s Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free. That was their first album as a trio, and was a sprawler, with the band reaching in several ambitious directions, re-defining and refining the band’s knowingly weird blend of styles, and injecting some classic rock and other new elements. With ST/II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT (phew), the folk is further expunged, but the freak still runs plenty strong.
A discovered cardboard box containing a handmade diorama, scribbled crayon notes, photos, and a cassette sounds like a time capsule created by a 10 year-old, a collection of keepsakes meant to be sequestered away. Instead, it was proof of a new album after weeks of unreturned communications to a record label. Said album was to be titled S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT.
Oregon rock alchemists create soundworlds that one can be effortlessly immersed in. Daniel Ross 2011 Releases from Oregon rock alchemists Akron/Family tend to be cause for confusion and wonder in equal measure, and this fifth full-length is no exception. In a fit of understandable paranoia, the band finished recording the album and sent it immediately to the vinyl pressing plant rather than their record label, apparently an attempt to limit the damage of a leaked release.
Since its genesis in 2002, Brooklyn-based collective Akron/Family has been lumped into the freak folk genre – essentially just another ambiguous tag used to categorize those with a jones for suffusing acoustic music with a touch of psychedelia and the avant-garde. By melding these two disparate tastes with a calculated desire to be evasive, Akron/Family exhibits both the quirky affability of Animal Collective and the apocryphal declarations of The White Stripes. On LP No.