S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT, is the latest release from Akron/Family, the folksy, electronic madmen behind some of the greatest musical endeavors of the last five years. And this latest adventure, as the title might imply, is quite the undertaking.
Originally a quartet hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Akron/Family has been in transition mode since the departure of guitarist/lyricist/founding member Ryan Vanderhoof in 2007. Playing in various formations of up to seven people or dwindling it down to the original, remaining three, the Family has spent the last several years expanding the way the play and perceive music. They have released one album since then, 2009’s Set ‘em Wild, Set ‘em Free, a worthy effort but lacking the extra punch that made their previous ventures so enjoyable and unexpected.
But with the release of Cosmic Birth, it is evident this incarnation of the group, consisting of founding members Seth Olinsky, Miles Seaton and Dana Janssen, can evolve as a whole while still honoring the musical roots and explorations that brought them so far in the first place.
The album begins, as most Akron albums do, with a sort of anthem; a call to arms for all the lovers, freaks, heads and wanderers of the world. Entitled “Silly Bears”, the track has all the elements of an expected Akron tune: heavy drumming, tribal chanting, swelling guitar riffs that remind you the power and force and beauty of electrical instruments. But it is in the song’s, and more importantly the album’s, galactic tone that the band has found its new footing.
The next three tracks, “Island”, “A AAA O A WAY” and “So it Goes”, seem to be musical companions, paired together through mutual open-mindedness and pure soul. In an age where songs are considered to be singular, two-and-a-half minute achievements, it is a relief to hear a true album where each song blends into the next and is only enhanced by the introduction of the previous tune.
Though they have always been supporters of non-traditional, un-instrumental layering, it seems they have outdone themselves this time by reaching out to the furthest depths of the atmosphere and returning with some truly original noises.
“Another Sky” is a perfect example of this. By blending these unique sounds with their chunky instrumentation and poetic lyrics, lined with some truly uplifting background vocals, they have struck a profound balance between eccentricities and formidable lyrical and songwriting talent.
As the album continues, it becomes apparent that Akron/Family is taking us on a musical journey: an odyssey through the stratosphere. Space is a constantly unfolding spread of opportunity and Cosmic Birth serves as a tool for exploring the very stars and skies that hang languidly overhead. Losing your way is easy, but if you are given a kind hand and a healthy beat, you are sure to find your way.
“Cast a Net” provides a nice, acoustical change of pace: a lullaby to breathe to and rest easy on, as you continue through the remainder of this celestial orchestra.
And while the first half of the album appears to have been beamed down from the stars, the next half is inspired by the real people and places of this Earth.
The oriental inspired “Fuji 1” is kindly and lyrically driven, and breaks down to a full on experience of blood curdling chants that reminds you of the raw joy of humanity.
“Fuji II (Single Pane)” appears to have been given birth in a rain forest of some far away place, where air is still and rain falls in equal patterns of life and reliability.
As the album comes to a close, and with forty-seven minutes of un-inhibited inertia behind them, the band sends us off in style, with the mellow groove of “Creator”. As they sing, “The creator has a master plan, we may never understand”, we are allowed time to reflect and appreciate the fact that we can understand what Akron/Family has created for us, and we can give thanks that such people are inhabiting our universe, imagining times and tunes for us to enjoy, and hold in our hearts and minds, as we float off through our own musical odysseys.