Akron/Family debuted their new format as a trio minus vocalist and guitarist Ryan Vanderhoof on 2009's Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free. They also moved pointedly away from the trappings of post-psych acid folk into multiple directions simultaneously: from animistic avant-rock, freaky funk, and even prog. S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT, issued in February of 2011, solidifies that move in a surprising manner. It is easily the most optimistic, spiritually blissed-out recording in the band's catalog. It was composed and arranged in a cabin near a live volcano in Akan National Park in Hokkaido, Japan, then recorded at Michigan Central Station, the massive abandoned train station in Detroit, as well as at various homes in Portland, OR. Teaming once more with producer Chris Koltay, the trio of Miles Seaton, Seth Olinsky, and Dana Janssen are joined on select tracks by Vanderhoof on slide guitar, vocalist Ali Beletic, trumpeter Ed Sortman, and Japanese vanguard percussion legend Tatsuya Nakatani. Tribalistic drums, distorted lo-fi efx, a screaming lead guitar -- that sounds a lot like the late Stuart Adamson's from Skids -- soaring organ, and a chorus of chanted vocals introduce "Silly Bears" and thus the album. All instruments are on stun, as the vocals chart a journey to metaphoric bliss inside a post-acid nursery rhyme. The sounds of nature -- à la birdsongs -- permeate the less strident but ultimately more beautiful textures and ambiences of "Islands," with lilting keyboards, drifting guitars, and hypnotic tom-toms. "So It Goes" begins as a riff-laden guitar fest, but shifts gears once the melody kicks in and becomes a celebratory paean to generosity. Sonic abstraction has its place here too, on the moodier "A AAA O A WAY" and in the shimmering interior dreamscape that introduces "Fuji II (Single Pane)." The album's final cut, "Creator," uses Pharoah Sanders' lyric from "The Creator Has a Master Plan," but is far from his beautifully celebratory jazz joy. Instead there are delicate slide guitars, acoustic pianos, softly sung choruses, and a textural palette reminiscent of sun-drenched open fields. Ultimately, S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT is a further step in Akron/Family's already expansive musical journey; one that will no doubt delight fans and should turn on novices in droves.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek