ALBUM REVIEW: Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT

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B+ | DEAD OCEANS | 2.8.11 | MOG | AMAZON | INSOUND

When I first heard Akron/Family’s 2007 album Love Is Simple, I was walking the streets of Santiago, Chile. Loaded with nothing but my wits, a rucksack and an mp3 player, I hadn’t long flown into the city before gracing its concrete jungle walkways and trying to figure out in which direction I was facing. An enormous feeling of loneliness loomed over me.

Love Is Simple (with soft, squidgy lyrics like “Go out and love, love, love everyone”) filled me with confidence. It taught me to wear a loving smile on my face to everyone I would meet. The album’s unhurried pace was the antidote I needed to contrast the bustle of the busy South American city.

Perhaps as a step away from previous slow-burning offerings, Akron/Family’s new LP S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT kicks off with a surprising boom. Jolting with anthemic deluge first track "Silly Bears" charges into existence. Hammering tribal drums and a rolling bassline infuse brilliantly as all three Family members harmonize to perfection and with a touch of despair.

Third track "A AAA O A WAY" evokes the bonfire spirit of Love Is Simple’s "There’s So Many Colors," followed by the big, crunching blues medley "So It Goes." This track shows how Akron/Family can quite often hit out with lyrical gems that are so delicious you have to rewind and play them again.

/ Just like them, I stopped giving my change to all the homeless people out on the street /
/ But I changed back /
/ I give my change again to anyone who asks so long as I have a pocket /

As "So It Goes" trails off to a quiet close, "Another Sky" explodes with futuristic, high-pitched guitar and crashing percussion. "Fuji I (Global Dub)" chants out full-scale crunching, sing-a-long blues while "Canopy" proffers beauty through a bittersweet Spanish guitar.

Listening to Akron/Family’s cunning use of merry, folk-influenced psychedelia can sometimes compliment life itself. Leaving my house to walk along the cold, snowy sidewalk, second track Island tumbled into my earlobes. The trio sent their dreamy, majestic number packing by chiming the phrase “the gulf of Mexico”, at which point the breeze outside picked up and flung a handful of snow from a tree branch into the ether.

Similarly, on my walk home down a dark, icy lane, a tiny grey rabbit bounded across my path and then continued to sprint ahead for a good while into the shadows as the wistful "Cast A Net" floated all around me. On pondering each occurrence, I couldn’t help but feel that they had helped to accentuate the meaning of the song – or perhaps the song had helped to accentuate the meaning of the occurrences. Either way, it reminded me that Akron/Family create the kind of organic wonder that easily transcends from manufactured sound into nature.

While previous albums have had a strong focus on acoustic experimentalism, this new record makes room for radio-friendly blues and seems to have been written with a more indie-pop audience in mind. Akron/Family have deserved a wider fanbase for a long time, entertaining as they are, and so issues like this are easily forgiven. Thankfully, they don’t drop their ability to shake things up and still pour in a healthy amount of bizarre – like the record’s title. The phrase S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shunju TNT should induce puzzlement from the off as even the band themselves admit that they are unsure as to what it truly means.

S/T II flows a logical course from start to almost finish. Final track "Creator" is surplus to requirement since penultimate number "Canopy" ties things off so well. As a scene-buster, this album could well be the one that breaks Akron/Family into the big time. The pop world wouldn’t regret letting them in either: this album positively begs to be played live.