Review Summary: Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free is a beautiful album full of endlessly engaging music and meaningful lyrics about personal freedom and being at peace with one's soul.
Most people who know the name ‘Akron/Family’ know it from Michael Gira, the brilliant mind behind the critically acclaimed industrial band Swans. Gira signed Akron/Family to his label Young God Records in 2004 after hearing a collection of demos the band had put together and sent to him in 2003. From that signing came four studio albums; Akron/Family
(2005), Meek Warrior
(2006), Love Is Simple
(2007) and a collaboration album in 2005 with Michael Gira’s secondary project Angels of Light simply titled Akron/Family and Angels of Light
. In 2008, the band departed Young God Records and joined Dead Oceans Records for the release of Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free
A lot is expected from musicians who are discovered and praised by Michael Gira, and this album certainly proves Akron/Family’s worth. It begins with “Everyone Is Guilty”, a nearly 6-minute introduction that features robust chants from front man Seth Olinksy, repetitive themes that seamlessly layer on top of one another and drums that drive the momentum of the song from start to finish. The first word that comes to mind to really describe this track is ‘fun’. I for one have been known to sing this in my car as loudly as possible with the windows down, having the time of my life. No regrets.
Many of the tracks on Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free
could simply be described as fun. “River” certainly falls under that category, as well as the category of being catchy as hell. The last three minutes or so of “They Will Appear” would also be a great example of this, as well as an example of Akron/Family’s undeniable ability to create the excitement of a live show through studio recordings. The energy and focus they perform with is captured within every record and it adds a great amount of worth to everything they do.
Perhaps my favorite moments of Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free
are tracks 4 through 6; “The Alps and Their Orange Evergreen”, “Set ‘Em Free” and “Gravelly Mountains of the Moon”. The first two songs are soothing folk ballads about living life according to one’s self which Seth’s vocals dominate quite appropriately and effectively. Then we’re taken to “Gravelly Mountains of the Moon” which has my favorite intro to almost any song I’ve ever heard. It’s nothing but the ambient sound of flutes flurrying through notes so very freely and without rule, a perfect way to reinstate the entire theme of Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free
. This entire song may be the most brilliant part of the record. Almost three minutes in, it bursts into another three minutes of pure energy building up second after second with blaring horns, earth-shattering drums and the band members literally screaming at the top of their lungs until the song simply can’t take it anymore. It’s done in the perfect way to represent a human being setting their self free of society’s rules and just letting go of everything until their mind is just completely liberated and empty in the most comfortable and relaxing way possible. This relaxed feeling is then represented by the final minute of Seth singing “[P]ut me in, let me run with the ball” five times and ending each time with a “ha!” as sort of a musical sigh, the final of which sounding the most complete and tranquil. This is simply brilliant songwriting and is art at its finest.
Although the entertainment value of the music is very high, it does not at all take away from the meaningfulness of their lyrics. The first half of “They Will Appear” is actually quite spiritual; “I cannot make you / Understand my soul / By painting it gold or / Echoing rainbows / What have we become / In what seems only days / Thoughts en-world our hearts / We want out of this maze / Well, look us in the eyes / Don’t take yes or know / There’s no surprise here / There’s nothing we won’t show / Please wait awhile for me / It will not take long / We will be right where we need to be / To sing the chosen song”. Basically, they’re saying “we know you don’t get why we are the way we are, but we’re gonna keep being like this and not keep anything hidden, and that alone will give us our own personal freedom.” That’s a pretty powerful statement for anybody to declare that they can achieve, and the music Akron/Family uses to declare them just makes these guys seem that much more confident of themselves.
Right after the conclusion of “They Will Appear”, we arrive at “Sun Will Shine”, where the only lyrics in the 5-minute song are “[T]he sun will shine, and I won’t hide”, further emphasizing what “They Will Appear” had affirmed. This song ends with horns blasting freely, similar to the flutes on “Gravelly Mountains of the Moon”. It actually gives off the same aura of life fulfilling finality as “Anywhere I Lay My Head”, the closing track on legendary songwriter Tom Waits’ album Rain Dogs
. Part of me wishes that Akron/Family would have ended the album after this, but instead they wonderfully finish it with “Last Year” to assure the further finding of freedom in the coming future.
There are very few low points on Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free
, if any. “Creatures” is probably my least favorite track, as it really doesn’t do anything for me. “MBF” is a monster of an instrumental, and at times pierces through the ears. But it’s angry and speaks tons without even having words, and it’s actually a very important piece of the puzzle. All in all, Akron/Family did an incredible job creating this album. This is, in my opinion, their greatest work. It’s significantly meaningful and still wildly entertaining, and I couldn’t recommend it enough.
Everyone Is Guilty
The Alps and Their Orange Evergreen
Set ‘Em Free
Gravelly Mountains of the Moon
They Will Appear
Sun Will Shine (Warmth of the Sunship Version)