Akron/Family – Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth And Voyage Of Shinju TNT
[Dead Oceans, 2011]
Jeff Pearson, February 7, 2011
Originally published by Life’s Sweet Breath
Listen: “Silly Bears”
In the six years since Akron/Family entered the public consciousness with the noise-laden, folksy coming -out party that was their self-titled debut, the band has undergone some major changes, both structurally and sonically. Akron/Family saw the band take gorgeous melodies, place them lovingly on top of slowly picked acoustic guitars, and texturing the romanticism with a twenty-first century, digital take on synthetism. The songs were peppered with washes of electronic bleeps and blips. They took a step back from the electronics with Meek Warrior and Love Is Simple, gravitating towards breaking up the beauty of their melodious ways with raucous, free-jamming freak-outs.
After Love Is Simple released, founding member Ryan Vanderhoof departed from the band to pursue a life in the Tsogyelgar/Flaming Jewel Dharma center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The band made do in Vanderhoof’s absence, crafting 2009’s Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free, a record which saw the band simultaneously break loose of what little restrictions they had, and forming their most memorable melodies to date. Set ‘Em Wild captured the band truly beginning to find their voice, to find their place in music today. No longer could we compare them to the other freak-folkers who rose to prominence alongside them. To put it quite simply: Akron/Family separated from the pack.
After touring extensively for Set ‘Em Wild, transforming their studio wizardry into a three-piece behemoth before audiences’ very eyes, Akron/Family took to the hills. Quite literally, in fact. It has been pieced together by their label, Dead Oceans, that the band took residence in a cabin along the side of Mount Meakan, an active volcano on the island of Hokkaido, Japan. It was here that the band wrote the songs which would become their newest album, Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth And Voyage Of Shinju TNT. The album itself could be compared to Meakan, a calming presence which, when having its outer layers penetrated, reveals a simmering substance (in the case of Meakan, lava; in the case of Shinju TNT, chaotic musicianship) just waiting to burst forth.
“Silly Bears” opens the album up, a somewhat straightforward rocker for Akron/Family, characterized by penetratingly catchy guitar lines (get used to that) and thunderous drums. The track plays like a shout to the heavens, with the three members alternating between softly harmonizing and rowdily letting their vocals fly in unison. The song melts away into “Island”, the slowly-building launch into the ether, bits of vocal debris flying in every direction as Seth Olinsky shouts “The Gulf Of Mexico”. Never before has a geography lesson sounded so important. “So It Goes” applies doo-wop vocal stylings to punchy instrumentation, and “Another Sky” sees the Ak-Ak truly let go, a dancing guitar line finds a partner in a tribal rhythm. The latter builds a wall of sound into a soliloquy washed ashore from the ocean of chaos that precedes it: “Oh, we sailed into the night, and took that sea on blindly, escaping all the glitter and the fray/ No we can’t deny the fear that grows of being swallowed whole/But we will row the sunny shores and start again/And oh, the wind that crossed the bough, it shook that vessel wildly/And you and I were cast into the waves/No, we can’t deny the fear that grows of being swallowed whole/But we will row the sunny shores again.” As Olinsky concludes with “Beneath another sky,” the tide pulls the band back into the sea of sound, tossing the listener around with it.
The record heads back towards the surface, where it brims with beauty in numbers like “Cast A Net” and “Fuji II (Single Pane)”, seeing Akron/Family using sparse instrumentation and hushed vocals to lull the listener into a trance-like state. The listener can’t help but feel reflective and at peace with whatever tumultuous situations encapsulate their life at the time; the calming mood created in the last portion of the album recalls feelings of days when things might have been easier. When listening to the album’s closer “Creator”, the listener can no longer feel the earth’s rotation, as if the rock we inhabit is standing still and the sky is flying by above.
This magnitude of music’s influence on the listener’s feelings is on display all over Shinju TNT. There are times throughout that pure joy is elicited through one coiling guitar line, and times when the weight of the world seems like it could crush you at any point during a subdued lullaby. For this, Akron/Family have made their greatest record to date. They have not only captured the sound of their live creations, but they have captured each gust in the whirlwind of human emotion.