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. However, they needn’t have worried – this is the sort of album that can rarely be discussed with reference to worldly, industrial things. It is a work of instinct and invention, and of constant evolution.
Akron/Family’s first self-titled release from 2005 was a decidedly woodsier affair than their second (and didn’t feature a hilarious subtitle), full of gently psychedelic tunes humming through the undergrowth. S/T II begins, conversely, with a blistering flurry of percussion and droning guitars, before a simplistic, almost cute vocal about two bears having a chat about where they got some honey. Clearly, whatever music they’ve written between their debut and latest records, they’ve abandoned most notions of acoustic expressions. Silly Bears is brilliantly positive and unfettered, bearing a passing resemblance to the much-missed verve of The Mae Shi, which is a terribly pleasing thing.
Though they may have jettisoned much of their reflective sound, there are moments when calmness reigns and balance is restored. Between many of the tracks we hear crickets chirruping and gentle woodland sounds that, though they’ve been done before (try Animal Collective’s Campfire Songs or the work of David Karsten Daniels), make for genuinely interesting textural shifts. Spending time on perfectly creating the quiet sections means that the loud sections are so much more effective when they arrive.
Plaintive on Island and rapturous on Another Sky and Cast a Net, Akron/Family's dynamic range is one of the more clearly and effectively deployed in modern rock music. Whether they're harmonising like the Beach Boys or luxuriating like a melodically-driven Kraftwerk, the results are consistently lush and rewarding. The baffling subtitle might not have much of a bearing on how the album actually sounds, but it is as fine and exquisitely delivered as any of their earlier works. The band is to be treasured for what they bring to music – nature, construction and soundworlds that one can be effortlessly immersed in.