Listening to Akron/Family’s new record, entitled S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT, at a listening party in Los Angeles on Saturday night contained what was probably a first for those in attendance: the burning of the CD afterwards in a burst of pure, blue, toxic flame.
Akron/Family had given specific instructions to the 20 or so listening groups that they had organized throughout the country that the CD must be destroyed immediately afterward. The album isn’t due to be officially released until more than a month from now but rabid fans, like those in attendance on Saturday night, had been clamoring for a taste of what would be forthcoming. Akron/Family did not disappoint.
Without the actual album to review (sifting through digital cinders is not practical) an actual coherent reaction is difficult but first impressions are still useful.
Sonically, the album is very satisfying. The recording quality renders the instruments with a pristine analog warmth. The vocals on the other hand possess an idiosyncratic digital purity that still has a wholeness of tone that defies metaphor. They seemed devoid of an aural point of view, as if they were recorded in an isolation tank while the band was floating in salt water. This is actually a good thing and I can’t say I’ve heard it on any other album. Whoever produced the record should be fist bumped.
Fortunately, we had a bad ass sound system to listen to the album on. The 15” JBL speakers allowed the bass notes and low drum hits to be coherent pieces instead of mush. This album should not be played on small speakers. A listen on a high end stereo system or good headphones is a requirement.
As for the songs themselves not much can be said beyond Akron/Family has taken a significant step forward with this album. The complicated but natural orchestration of the faster songs stand out, particularly the first track (whatever it’s called), and while the slower songs did not impress as much as the others on first (and only) listen, they lent the album a general feeling of wholeness. Without them the experience of the record would not be as complete.
The record will most likely be considered first as a whole, and second as a collection of songs. Courtesy of the listening party’s organizers we were visually stimulated by a video projection of solar systems, stars, planets, and diagrams of solar radiation while the album played (courtesy of NASA). It provided a perfect counterpoint. The album has a majesty to it that is very much cosmic. A warm, inviting, kindness that lyrically and musically are an antidote to the cynicism that seems to sneak in to the routine of everyday life. Akron/Family has seen something out there in the ether and wants to share it with you.
Driving home from the event the radio was full of news about the fatal shootings in Tucson, Arizona. To go from the womb of sublime music to the tragic results of months of fear mongering by vitriolic American politicians was a jarring transition. But Akron/Family’s music provides hope. Their music is quintessentially American, and of the America I prefer to think will endure. As an indie group that has earned a loyal grass roots fan base, this album should prove to be their breakthrough.