Sunday, May 03, 2009

Gold Sounds: Akron Family - Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free reviewed

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

You see that cover up there? The one that absolutely screams Grateful Dead? That will prove to be the main obstacle preventing casual shoppers from picking up this album in the 'New Releases' section of their local record store. This is very unfortunate, because while the album and band may have its hippie leanings, Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free is a snapshot of Akron/Family at its most dynamic.

Opener "Everyone Is Guilty" sets the stage nicely, distilling the album's essence in roughly six minutes. The song starts with some funky guitars and group chanting, but eventually this musical vehicle breaks down in a fit of glorious noise. Unexpectedly, the music builds back up, this time accompanied by strings and horns, marking a triumphant ending to a triumphant song. Second track "River" even attempts to get all "Young Folks" on us, offering some prominent whistling and genuine crooning. However, the song never comes off like a 2007 indie pop retread and is one of the album's several highlights.

Unlike other Akron/Family albums, Set 'Em Wild is front-to-back a compelling, great album. In addition to the first two songs mentioned, each track has unique, memorable qualities and serves to connect the tracks preceding and following it. The three tracks following "River" are all pleasant, relatively short, mellow and, most importantly, cause the high of "Gravelly Mountains of the Moon" to seem stratospheric. "Gravelly Mountains of the Moon," the album's centerpiece, sounds as epic as its title implies, and even ends with a musical reprise of one of their previous album's highlights. Such decisions really add depth to the material; not only have Akron/Family created a fluid album with Set 'Em Wild, but they're also striving to create a fluid discography, something very few artists even attempt.

Even after this highlight, the second half of the album still holds up strongly. "They Will Appear" features guitarwork reminiscent of fellow Dead Oceans band Dirty Projectors and effortlessly transforms from quiet campfire singalong to raucous fit of noise including, of all things, some truly intense harmonica playing. "Sun Will Shine (Warmth of the Sunship Version)" features Broken Social Scene-esque walls of guitar and horns at one point and perfectly leads into piano-based final song "Last Year," with lyrics consisting solely of the repeated couplet, "Last year was a hard year for such a long time/This year's gonna be ours." With an album as polished and deep as Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free, one can only hope this will be the year of Akron/Family.

Akron/Family's fifth release, Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free, will be released this Tuesday, May 5th by Dead Oceans records. Listen to "Everyone Is Guilty" and "River" here and catch them on tour this week (Your humble reviewer saw them live a few months ago was thoroughly impressed):

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