Akron/Family, Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free

Akron/Family, Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free

There’s a strangely rural thread that winds its way through the entirety of Akron/Family’s newest, Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free, seemingly pointing backwards from the band’s NYC-bred sound to their roots in the Midwest, and that rustic, Middle America upbringing does indeed shine through at quite a few points on the album, particularly on the Fleet Foxes-esque “Set ‘Em Free,” the pastoral Cat Stevens-ness of “The Alps & Their Orange Evergreen,” and the subtly folky intro section of “They Will Appear,” for three. They’re more than capable of playing sweet, delicate folk that sounds like it should be ringing (softly, of course) across fields of grain and in between the stands of majestic pine trees.

What Akron/Family really deserve credit for, though, is their ability to graft that rustic/pastoral sound into songs that are most definitely not rustic and/or pastoral, or even folk-y. Try as you might to shove the band into any one prescribed little box, they make their escape, whipping out big, shiny knives to carve their collective way out of the box entirely and leaving weirdly compelling gouges, scrapes, and shadows as evidence.

Take “They Will Appear,” again, for an example — the music begins with low-key drums and spiraling guitar lines, then shifts into a gorgeous chorus of male voices singing to the sunrise (well, that’s what it sounds like, at least) before the raggedy, Neil Young-ish guitars come squalling in and the drums drop everybody into a Williamsburg loft for the coolest all-night party you’ve ever been to. The song crashes and careens, a stomping, confident hippie-church service that lifts its hands up to the skies with a cheery, almost manic smile across its face.

The rest of the disc follows suit, grabbing influences from all corners and dumping them pell-mell into the kitchen sink to brew up a sound that’s not really any one thing except maybe psych-rock, and that stretches even the boundaries of that rubbery-edged musical genre. The folk stuff slams head-on into noise-rock guitar (“MBF,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Parts & Labor album) and jubilant, Elephant 6-ish horns (“Gravelly Mountains of the Moon”), pinballs off to morph into a shambling, rambling pseudo-jazz orchestra (the all-left-turns “River”), stops in at the local bar to get down (“Everyone Is Guilty”), and even winds up colliding with a Big Easy-style jazz funeral horn jam (no, really; “Sun Will Shine (Warmth of the Sunship Version)”) before melting into a woozy rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.”

Through it all, the combinations work nearly flawlessly. The risk of a kitchen-sink effort like this is that by trying to be too many things, a band can end up sounding adrift and unsure, but that’s not what’s happening here. The trio of Seth Olinsky, Miles Seaton, and Dana Janssen play with big, mischevious grins, mixing and matching like mad scientists and with all the skill that implies. The result is definitely scattered and hard to handle yet absolutely worthwhile, like a less-loopy, more-organic Beta Band with a heavy dose of Sufjan Stevens horns and some Spoon-esque sharp points.

The best track on here, perhaps fittingly, is the first — “Everyone Is Guilty” immediately kicks all preconceptions in the head and leaves ’em in the gutter to ponder their existence, leaving you to feel your jaw slowly drop as the band cranks into what sounds like some crazed remix of a lost Maceo & the Macks classic. The funky/squishy-sounding keys sound like they fell straight off the soundtrack to Shaft, the percussion’s tinkly and busy and yet somehow not irritating, and the gang-shouted verses are nearly impossible to get out of your head, even after one listening.

From there, it’s a trippy, swirling spiral down the rabbit hole; you never know where Akron/Family’s headed next, but after a track or two, you no longer care about anything beyond hanging on for the ride.

[Akron/Family is playing 2/23/10 at Walter's, along with Warpaint & Buxton.]
(Dead Oceans -- 1499 W. Second St., Bloomington, IN. 47403; http://www.deadoceans.com/; Akron/Family -- http://www.akronfamily.com/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010. Filed under Reviews.

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One Response to “Akron/Family, Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 1: Street Dogs + David Ramirez (Rev’d!) + Blackmarket Syndicate + Hello Chief + More on September 7th, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    […] last year’s Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT, but 2010′s Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free was a nicely-done, very cool chunk of Midwestern retro-psych-rock. Well worth seeing/hearing, […]

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