Review Summary: On their second self-titled album, Akron/Family finally live up to their potential, creating a meticulously crafted record filled to the brim with personality and poise.Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT
should be heralded as the first time Akron/Family got it right. Since their inception in 2002, the neo-folk/experimental rock group has sort of been moseying around, dabbling in the bizarre as well as the frighteningly simple, all without ever finding their niche. Solid, yes, but up until this point Akron/Family has been a novelty, a passing fancy, and one whose music has been regretfully forgettable. It’s safe to say that nothing they’ve accomplished has felt as whole, fresh, and cerebrally stimulating as their fifth, and most recent effort.
is as outlandish as one would expect, considering the circumstances surrounding its creation. Supposedly, the band holed themselves away in a cabin. As common as this may sound, Akron/Family took this setting one step further, opting to live on the side of an active Japanese volcano. The recording took place in a run-down train station, with the band afterwards leaking a few fake pieces onto the internet. The little mess that was the start of the album eventually ended up paired with a cryptic message, in the hands of their record label. Not exactly the most classy or humble of beginnings, but the strangeness and sincerity really shine through as Akron/Family II
is anything but ordinary.
Somewhat in the vein of Animal Collective, Akron/Family create a dense, electro-pop/folk/rock atmosphere, with plenty of emphasis on the overall mood
of the piece. At times effervescent and capricious, while at others, sanguine and dreamy, Akron/Family II
is chock full of deliciously lush sounds and tones. The opener, “Silly Bears” features intricate vocal layering, with a thick, lo-fi undertone. The little harmonies that are sprinkled in the background are nigh inaudible, but when contrasted with the curt, but effective guitar passages, their presence becomes even more known. Songs like this are what makes the album so brilliant. It’s filled to the brim; chaotic but wholly organized, and ultimately one hell of a catchy tune. Yet for each hectic and bombastic “Silly Bears,” there’s a silky smooth, relaxing “Island” to balance everything out. Relying on vocal harmonies and simple instrumentation on electronics, “Island” feels stripped down, and far more organic.
“So It Goes” offers up the album’s most “rocking” tune, with an emphasis on the bluesy, rock-and-roll guitars wrapping around the boisterous vocals. Subtle ”oooh’s”
in the background accent the song, giving a much more character-filled, fleshed out sound. “Another Sky” follows suit, and is an absolute standout on the record. Opening up with an abrasively quick guitar intro, the song spirals into a fun, saccharine coated shimmering tune, full of beautiful lyricism and infectious hand claps. The latter half of the album seems to be where they but the “strangest” of the songs, with the brunt of experimentation and unconventional songwriting being featured here. Whether it be the slow-burning, largely instrumental acoustic “Cast A Net,” or the forty seconds of nature sounds that is “Tatsuya Neon Purple Walkby,” there’s always something to keep the listener on their toes. Also notable are the more Japanese sounding “Fuji I” and “Fuji II,” two songs clearly influenced by their rumored stay at “Volcano Inn.”
No matter how interesting or intriguing the latter half may be, it still signals a definite shift in the album’s liveliness. There’s just less energy and excitement, and the slower tracks aren’t really to blame. No matter how hard it tries, “Say What You Want To” just can’t capture the same fire that “Silly Bears” and “Light Emerges” did. Added to that, the near ambient acoustic piece, “Canopy” is awkwardly placed. Neither an outro or interlude, the minimalist tune feels like a more natural way to end the album. Instead, it gets sandwiched between two very similar songs, ending up as the penultimate track.
Yet this little hiccups are just that--hiccups. The overall quality of Akron/Family II
is astounding; the sound of a band finally--after more than enough tries--feeling comfortable in their own skin. Beautiful, smart, and wholly absorbing, Akron/Family’s second self-titled is an album well worth spending some quality time with.