By: Dennis Cook
Last year was a hard year for such a long time
This year is gonna be ours
Come outside into the sunlight. Be welcome all who cannot sleep or breathe or scream. This is the resounding, potentially healing and immediately invigorating underlying message of Akron/Family's incendiary, positivity charged fourth album, Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free (released May 5 on Dead Oceans). With sure hands and keen minds, Seth Olinsky (guitar, vocals, various), Miles Seaton (bass, vocals, various) and Dana Janssen (percussion, vocals, various), along with choice coconspirators, waken us, whispering that we "are no longer a docile stream," as they free dammed up places in us. And by "us" I mean the greater oversoul, the shared ache and quiver of humanity shambling around today, fear stoked and wondering what's next after so much has been debunked and endured. With a joyous shout and mighty clamor, Akron/Family offers us a new path to the waterfall and freedom from our cages if only we will join together with the band.
Cynicism is easy. Optimism – the well-rooted, weather resistant sort – is a tough go. Most people smiling on tomorrow seem a little dim, a bit out of touch or in denial somehow. But occasionally, the real thing comes along, and Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free is as real as it gets – a sincere alchemical elixir for what ails us. And have no doubt, we are sick. In building our individual paradises, distinct and separate from even the folks in the next room, we've lost each other. We've lost hold of enduring truths in chasing glowing versions of ourselves on TV. And we're not likely to find our way out of our self-customized shadows without a bracing, awakening splash, which is precisely what this album is. Oh, you can hold it at arm's length, force it to be just another playlist in your pocket, or you can split yourself open and let them cut the dis-ease from you. Like their fiery live gatherings, these guys are looking for folks ready to get in the game and run with the ball. Raise your hand and they'll give you a high-five you'll remember all your days.
The opening trio alone – "Everyone Is Guilty," "River" and "Creatures" – is such a smoothly executed smorgasbord – Stevie's "Higher Ground" and the low, blurred heat of the African plains, punk chant and environmentally dappled poetry, boom bap and deep jungle clang. No one puts together sounds quite like Akron/Family. You could dump the same box of ingredients into the lap of other equally gifted players and they'd never flow like Set 'Em Wild, which is their most organic, cohesive set yet. It's somewhat inaccurate to say they're creating their own genre because that suggests isolation and disenfranchisement. This is neither, with each cut reaching out in unique ways, beckoning us to shout and swing WITH them. What they themselves do may be unrepeatable but we're encouraged to bring something of ourselves to the table, to wrestle with their queries and slap them on the black hand side as we feel the earth rumble beneath their stomping progress. Akron/Family is captured lightning, controlled yet still viscerally elemental, and the natural order of things spreads wide, willing and moist, as they plunge headlong into primordial things. This album isn't about one person or one day but digs its hands into the deepest soil, the fertile stuff under all the concrete and shopping malls, and then turns to us with a sledgehammer extended for us to take a few whacks of our own.
"Sometimes things that are still sometimes appear to move."
The world is both as it seems and not. Mutability is law and perception is only half the puzzle. Yet, with ever-richer voices and intertwined harmonies, Akron/Family seems to say, "Accept uncertainty. Take a cup of kindness and rest your weary feet." There's something universal and humanizing at their core. And it's not just their words but the continent, genre and time hopping threads woven into their hyper-thick, always intriguing music. In Akron/Family we find the meeting places, the joins between '60s freedom jazz and greasy blues, classic rock and church songs, folk and freakout. They are the children of Coltrane and Guthrie, Pigpen and Holger Czukay, folks labeled experimenters and outsiders who were in fact great uniters. Akron/Family is well on their way to joining the hushed reverence these names and those like them enjoy, and the bald face proof of that resides in Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free, their first but surely not their last masterpiece.
JamBase | Nitty Gritty
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