review: Akron/Family-Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free

In music, reviews on May 18, 2009 at 10:25 am

Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free
Dead Oceans, 2009

Have had my hands on this one for a couple of weeks, but I needed some time with it. Unlike some more esteemed critics, I don’t know this band. I’ve since read that they’ve presented a few killer shows, come out with a few awesome albums. But if there was a band that the term “freak-folk” was created for, it’s these guys. Once the hottest thing in Brooklyn was starry garage rock, now it’s some folksy-get back to basics-off the grid mess. Now, I don’t really know what the “freak-folk” tag means, but on the opener “Everyone Is Guilty” it means combining some of the more traditionally organic instruments into some raucous explosions and funk jams. On “Creatures,” it means quiet electronics and gentle bass beats. Something like “Many Ghosts” finds a happy medium between these two, both in instrumentation and pace with some angelic harp harmonies for good measure. The album rides back and forth between those two speeds–15mph and maybe 45 mph. This isn’t some full-on Avett Brothers folk-punk, but there are some admirable guitar jams (“MBF”) moody atmospherics and quirky brass, and sometimes all appear at once such as on “Sun Will Shine.”
But the heavy hitter and the one most passed around for good reason is “River.” It has an accessible melody and mines ground that favs of mine Anathallo and The Decembrists have already explored. Akron/Family splinters in many directions, but somehow reels it in by having the similar ideas for each song. The only difference may come in choosing a piano or a violin to play the same part. Those decisions are crucial and Akron/Family is still navigating it. Hence, the term “experimental.”


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