Akron/Family‘s self-titled debut introduced the group as an experimental folk group of the highest caliber. That “folk” tag, regardless of what modifier was placed before it, quickly became inaccurate as the band released increasingly weird and expansive albums. The folk touches remained, joined by free jazz, heavy metal, and whatever else you could imagine. After the multi-instrumentalist members split, they continued on increasingly disparate trajectories. Hearing their solo albums could make you wonder how we ever thought the center could hold while also reminding listeners of the vast amount of influences that went into Akron/Family. Now Seth Olinsky returns under his Cy Dune name with Against Face, a quick and energized run through his punk-related ideas.
With ten tracks totaling about 20 minutes, Against Face only sort of qualifies as an album; it’s much more of an essay, or maybe just the abstract ahead of a proper argument. Cy Dune’s previous release Desert mixed blues and garage rock sounds with less linear experiments. Olinsky maintains touches of his garage sounds here and certainly keeps the experimentation, but all of this comes in the service of a kinetic advance of refracted punk music. He gives us no wave and new wave and probably some other waves, too (abrasive synthpop never really had a proper wave, although maybe it’s time for one).
The album opens with “Don’t Waste My Time” and a drum beat that could have worked for the Go-Go’s. As the synth comes in, we could be in the early ’80s, but the screechy guitar part unsettles any comfort we might have had. The rest of the track, tinged with a bit of a snarl, includes subtle studio trickery to keep everything a little off balance even while staying oriented to its simple hook and straightforward chorus. Olinsky couldn’t quite let himself write a genuine pop song, so he wrote something better.
The rest of the album continues with that approach, Olinsky bounding between styles as he always has (though a little more focused to a certain general mode). The high energy remains a constant through the release, and while every song contains plenty of elements, Olinsky’s arrangements prevent any of them from sounding busy. “Precedent” comes close to standard fare, but the psych nugget has little background tweaks to make it jittery. After a minute and ten seconds of frustration, Olinsky’s made his point, and he moves on, still blistering in fuzz through “Any More”.
Thoughts that he’d drift into psych end as “Gone to My Head” comes in with a sparer arrangement leading to an utterly different sort of guitar freakout. “Blast Beat” has a title that suggests something heavy coming, but Olinsky deconstructs the idea within his rave (a rave that briefly flourishes surf guitar). Somehow it all leads into the blips of “11100”, which could almost be a binary solo. By this point, Olinsky has been all over the place, yet, it turns out, everything has been perfectly organized.
When Cy Dune finishes with “Steal Your Face”, the drums now sounding electronic but moving away from the digital style of the song’s predecessors, he references both the Grateful Dead and an earlier track on his record. On “Against Face”, he wanted to turn away from the vapidness of the world, resisting culture even as he left it. Now the word “face” takes on a surrealist look, and we might not entirely get what Olinsky means, but we know the burst will continue beyond this album. And then the song cuts out unexpectedly. Against Face provides a steady joy even as it undermines its stability. Olinsky has deliberately upended expectations for years, and his latest version of Cy Dune uses new directions (and waves) to continue old fun.