Akron/Family: S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT

Photo: Ian McNeil

The latest helping of left-field psych-folk from the Brooklyn outfit is one of 2011’s first great albums.


S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT

Label: Dead Oceans
US Release Date: 2011-02-08
UK Release Date: 2011-01-17
Artist website

The background information provided with Akron/Family’s S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT would have you believe it’s the group’s most, well, startlingly cosmic offering yet. Not that 2009’s Set `Em Wild, Set `Em Free was all sun-kissed harmonies and acoustic guitars (recall the album’s climax, where “Sun Will Shine”’s majestic chorus -- “The sun will shine / And I won’t hide!” -- suddenly warps into ambient noise and free jazz bleating), but the heart of that album’s charm lay in blissed-out pop strummers like “Many Ghosts” and “Set `Em Free”.

But S/T II -- the group’s second since signing to Dead Oceans, and since the 2007 departure of founding member Ryan Vanderhoof to life in a Buddhist Dharma center -- promises to be different. Its origins certainly suggest as much: the band spent prerecording sessions exploring “underground Japanese noise cassettes, lower case micro tone poems and emotional Cagean field recordings", layering “thousands of minute imperceptible samples of their first recordings with fuzzed out representations of their present beings to induce... many momentary transcendent inspirations". Recording took place in an abandoned Detroit train station. Results appeared on the label doorstep, in a cryptically labeled cardboard box. “It had ‘SHINJU TNT’ scrawled across the bottom of the box in black magic marker, and the return address read only ‘AK, DETROIT'.” Later, an album cover: an exploding volcano.

Don’t believe the hype: despite the otherworldly descriptors (and “Silly Bears”, the six-minute freakout-turned-noise-pop anthem that opens the album), S/T is at its best when it capitalizes on the sort of gorgeously layered, acid-damaged psych-pop this group has excelled at since 2005 (think Fleet Foxes on an Acid Mothers Temple kick). Thankfully, it’s one of the group’s strongest offerings yet.

Refreshingly S/T II feels less disjointed than Set `Em Wild, wisely leaving behind jam-funk excursions like that record’s ill-advised opener, “Everyone Is Guilty”. Instead, there’s a warm, psychedelic flow to the record, and it feels somehow fuller. Consider the phonetically titled “A Aaa O A Way”: on its own this is an awfully intriguing two-minute interlude involving a trippy vocal deconstruction of the word “Away”; here, it leads smartly into gorgeous psych-rocker “So It Goes” (first line: “I went away!”), which tightly balances messy fuzz guitar with sunny Beach Boys “Aaaah” harmonies. Elsewhere, the murmured bliss of “Fuji II (Single Pane)”, whose tightly woven drum pattern and muted guitar make it a distant cousin to “Island”, bleeds warmly into the sparsely majestic folk of “Canopy”. The album only falters when it trades in pop songcraft for the sort of sloppy psych-noise instrumental excursions you may be expecting -- specifically, on the awkward and aimless “Say What You Want To”.

The centerpiece may well be the blissfully sighing harmonies and pedal steel of “Cast a Net”, which merges warm melodic depth with some inspired studio layering. “Cast a net and cast it wide,” sings the band atop an airy tapestry of oohs and aahs. “You are reborn.” Acoustic finger-picking and weighty melodic effects fade gorgeously into ambient echo until you don’t want it to end. Believe the hype.







Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.