For those new to the fold, Internal Debate is Stereo Subversion’s attempt to help solve the quandary of reviewing art. After all, what is subjective should not be subject to critique, at least according to definitions alone. Yet that won’t stop the machine from churning out the “best of” and “worst of” lists that we’re all guilty of piecing together. Therefore, from time to time, we dissect an album through the lens of community in a way that helps give a broader idea to a particular listen.
This time around, we bring the aural microscope onto the latest effort from Akron/Family. We spoke with A/F a couple years ago about their freak-folk brand and indie darling status. The early returns from our Staff Writers is that the disc is, indeed, a worthy follow-up to what they’ve done before.
No one doubts the technical skill of Akron/Family, but one of the crosses bands with several singers must bear is their music’s inevitable facelessness. So while their previous LP’s have been expertly performed, the band has ultimately sacrificed some real estate in listeners’ memories in the name of a democratic songwriting process. Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free should change all of that. Alternating seamlessly between restless barn-burners and restful, plaintive Americana, Akron/Family have finally made an album that gives new and better meaning to the phrase “freak-folk,” long after that expression has worn out it’s novelty with critics and musicians. [Daniel Kirschenbaum]
Dear Akron/Family, I apologize for the paltry 6.5 that I gave to your “Everyone is Guilty” single. Since writing it, I have grown to love that song in all of its frantic, ambitious glory. I have repeatedly punched myself in the head for speaking ill of it. Furthermore, its pole position amongst the swelling, undulating mass of Set em’ Wild, Set em’ Free perfectly prepares us for the overflowing eclecticism that follows. You’re thinking pop, it seems (“River”). Well done. You’re thinking electronica, it seems (“Creatures,” “Many Ghosts”). All right then. I knew you guys had it in you. Ignore those naysayers (like my earlier self). I was sad to hear that Ryan Vanderhoof left the band recently, but it sounds like you guys are gonna be all right. [Thom Plasse]
Akron/Family takes its own advice with Set `Em Wild, Set `Em Free, as this music seemingly knows no boundaries. They get a little noisy during “Gravelly Mountains of the Moon”, although these rocky sounds likely mirror a (typical?) lunar off road journey, I suspect. The “Eight Miles High”-like guitar explosion during “MPF” is particularly enjoyable, in a Sonic Youth nostalgic sort of way. But how this act can transition from screaming through “MBF”, to approximating Beck’s gentler side during “Creatures”, is nothing short of amazing. Indeed, Akron is one dysfunctional, but entertaining, family. [Dan MacIntosh]
Akron/Family has produced a record full of frequent time changes, screaming vocals, anthemic themes, and folksy improv. One minute you’re singing along… the next you’re banging you’re head and howling. The band has held up nicely since the loss of Ryan Vanderhoof, and their complex sound is deceiving from a trio. “Auld Lang Syne” at the end of “Sun Will Shine” is a little disjointed, but it strongly reinforces the song’s theme. “They Will Appear” is an upbeat easy listen; it’s conclusion reminiscent of a patriotic anthem. In the albums concluding track the band informs “Last year was a hard year for a long time/ This year’s gonna be ours,” and it could be the case, this is an original album for these boys from Brooklyn. [Lindsay Tucker]