by DENISE LU
There’s something about the hike in temperature and sunshine of spring that conjures an imagery of running barefoot across a large expanse of grassy hills. If there was a montage of that scene captured from an aerial view, Akron/Family’s Sub Verses would be the soundtrack. On their followup to 2011’s Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT, the group takes on some demanding riffs and harmonies with a record comprised of what sounds like giant opus after giant opus.
And this makes sense. Seth Olinsky had “visions of large monumental sounds” and “American works on a grand scale.” Tracks like “Way Up” and “Sand Talk” bottle the grandiose feeling of freedom of the album with fuzzy tribal pulses and echoing choruses. However, while Sub Verses does come close to capturing this mantra of large gestures and macro sounds, there is yet another component to the album.
Olinsky brings up the idea of “future humanism” and a “sci-fi aesthetic narrative,” and this rings true in curveballs like “Sometimes I,” which follows directly after the uplifting “Sand Talk.” A drone piece with chilling, dissonant strings, “Sometimes I” is a creepy cut that wouldn’t sound too out of place in something like a Sunn O))) record (Stephen O’Malley created the album artwork for Sub Verses). Similarly, “Holy Boredom” opens with an unintelligible mumble that flows into verses of processed vocals and semi-apocalyptic notes that signal this other side of the album.
While this two-sided complexity is interesting, the two only mildly mingle and aren’t fully incorporated throughout the entire album. Sub Verses is heavily front-packed with tracks that resemble the soundtrack of a freeing montage, but what’s left towards the end and dispersed through the middle are the tracks that trace the strangeness of the album. As a whole, the transitions are a bit choppy and sudden, digging away at the coherence of the album.
However, perhaps as a last clever move, Sub Verses ends with the slow ballads “When I Was Young” and “Samurai.” The former confesses the faults of youthful mistakes while the latter explores themes of loneliness. Thus, albeit a rather rocky development to get from A to B, the beginning of the album portrays a youthful recklessness and naivety while the end carries a more stoic voice with insightful hindsight. Sub Verses is a road worth traveling, but just beware of the potholes along the way. [B-]
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