Akron/Family Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey...(Dead Oceans) Buy it from Insound
‘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.
In reality, since founding member Ryan Vanderhoof’s departure after the recording of 2007’s Love Is Simple, Akron/Family haven’t really been all that folky at all, freak or otherwise. Nowadays, their game is more about diverse, almost proggy indie rock. Akron Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT isn’t a big departure in that respect, but it is a more polished affair than any of their previous attempts: most of the songs seem to follow a more established structure than the wayward jams of old.
But that doesn’t mean they’ve become afraid to wander. At the heart of many of these tracks lies a fairly straightforward song structure, but it’s always complemented by a multitude of other ideas that seem to creep into the mix. Light Emerges, based around a childlike interplay between two xylophones, is frequently interspersed with deep bass pulses, snarling guitar loops and crazy synth squirls. And A AAA O A WAY’s simple two-note bassline is transformed by space age squeals and rumbles, before retiring into a mellow, bluesy epilogue. It’s almost like choosing between ideas all got too much, so they decided to throw them all in - here’s a group who couldn’t settle on just one band name, after all. As such, it’s an album that greatly rewards repeated listens.
When their quieter tendencies do return, it makes for some of the album’s most beautiful moments. Cast A Net features soothing, sleepy harmonies, carried by a hypnotic acoustic arpeggio. Meanwhile, the delicate tribal beat and hushed vocals of Fuji II recall Broken Social Scene at their most introspective.
And yet we’ve touched on but only a fraction of what this album has to offer, because the pace and direction seems to change from one song to the next. Another Sky is a melodic, rapid-fire wall of sound, not unlike some of Animal Collective’s noisier moments. So It Goes hints at 60s psychedelic rock with its fuzzy riffs and crashing cymbals, and Say What You Want To is a three-part epic condensed into three and a half minutes, effortlessly flitting between Black Sabbath-style hard rock into eastern-mystic scales and ending with an almost cartoonish outro.
While some bands who attempt this kind of eclecticism end up with something muddled and disjointed, Akron Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT is a finely crafted patchwork of ideas that constantly keeps the listener guessing. It’s schizophrenic, alright, but like all the best freaks, Akron/Family never fail to entertain.14 February, 2011 - 22:15 — Joel Stanier