AKRON/FAMILY: SUB VERSES (2013)
1) No-Room; 2) Way Up; 3) Until The Morning; 4) Sand Talk; 5) Sometimes I; 6) Holy Boredom; 7) Sand Time; 8) Whole World Is Watching; 9) When I Was Young; 10) Samurai.
All right, who called for another order of Animal Collective? On their sixth LP, Akron/Family step away from some of their wildest, most experimental maneuvres, and record a set of songs that would probably sound best next to an Ewokan campfire. Not that Sub Verses aren't wild and experimental — but the album seems to have more discipline, and behave in a more predictable manner than its predecessor. Nor was it recorded in a cabin on Hokkaido: the band moved to Seattle and El Paso for the sessions, which must have produced a healthy effect on their overall sense of reality.
As usual, the band has been praised for its diversity — the songs, in typical Akron/Family fashion, cover plenty of rootsy, artsy, and psycho ground, yet the record does not have a diverse feel, because, by now, we know what a stereotypical Akron/Family treatment is: heavy tribal percussion, instrumental loops, and choral harmony chanting characterize almost all of these songs, be they «bluesy», «folksy», or «baroque» in essence. This time around, however, the shamanistic ritual that they practice seems to have been thought and carried out with more precision and, dare I say it, a larger sense of purpose than usual.
ʽNo-Roomʼ opens the proceedings with an almost math-rock arrangement of busy drum fills and guitar flourishes, while the vocals chant gruff quasi-Tibetan mantras about the difficulties of seeing and breathing. The song's roll is a bit monotonous, but it actually helps that not as much is going on at the same time as is these guys' usual penchant; this is still not enough to convince the skeptic of any «serious intentions» that the song might have, but at least this makes it «quirky» rather than «confusing». The gloomy accappella part with the "we held on fast, we held on strong" vocals is, in fact, a bit shivery, an excellent achievement considering how rarely these guys manage to stir up a genuine emotional response.
Next comes ʽWay Upʼ — with its dialog between percussion explosions and vocal outbursts pseudo-randomly popping up from different channels, this song probably the Animal Collective rip-off on this album, but Akron/Family come from a different background: they are a rock band, after all, and their willingness to learn from their furry electronic brothers does not go all the way — the sounds of these tribal campfire anthems are, on the whole, crunchier than those of AC.
Next comes everything else: as usual, Akron/Family care little about catchiness (although there are so many looped choruses here that, by and large, something is bound to catch on), but the real reason why individual songs are not worth individual commentary is that they are all part of the same lengthy ritual, and each separate part of it, taken on its own, is meaningless outside of the general context. Towards the end, they seem to get a little more sentimental on tracks like ʽWhen I Was Youngʼ and ʽSamuraiʼ (even a little nostalgic, I'd say), but that, too, sort of feels like a natural conclusion of the ritual after the «heavy» parts.
And some of the parts, mind you, are quite heavy — ʽSand Talkʼ, ʽSand Timeʼ, and particularly ʽHoly Boredomʼ are often drowned in deep fuzz and flattened out with percussive sledgehammers. The heaviness itself is nothing new for Akron/Family at this time, but it does not seem gratuitously arbitrary (like the heavy riffage on ʽSo It Goesʼ from the preceding album) — it just highlights the energy-demanding parts of the campfire ritual.
None of what I have just said means that this is a «good album». Like most of the Akron/Family records, I do not properly «get» it — nothing will ever resolve this band's problem with sounding natural, not to mention «relevant» in any way. But somehow, this time around they really arranged their ingredients in a way that can be intriguing and stimulating for whoever needs a little extra intrigue and stimulation these days. I'd like to say that ʽHoly Boredomʼ is a good title to describe the entire album, but in reality, it's more like ʽUnholy Non-Boredomʼ — a focused, concentrated effort to make spirits ride that ends up a fascinating misfire, where their Hokkaido experience was just a pretentious mess of a misfire. At least, such is my initial impression: watch me return to this record in about three hundred years, and change this opinion.