Akron/Family’s follow up to 2011’s eccentrically named S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT may not have 6 different mixes floating around like that one did, but it’s still experimental and unorthodox enough to satisfy any of their veteran fans.
Sub Verses, like much of Akron/Family’s discography, is defined by its inspirations. What makes it interesting is just how disparate those inspirations can be and the uncanny combinations that result. “Way Up” starts with a strong riff which exposes the band’s love for a good old hard rock song, before twinkling synths a la Animal Collective bubble up from underneath. Animal Collective is a band often throw about in comparisons to Akron/Family and when one of their songs had a refrain of “Open up” (“Sand Talk”) being chanted, it’s easy to see why. But whereas Animal Collective generally stick to a certain style on any given album, Akron/Family aren’t afraid to change things up radically mid-album. The above mentioned “Sand Talk” is the calm stroll up a grassy hill that transforms into a headlong fall the other side in the combo of “Sometimes I” and “Holy Boredom”; with an eerie, horror cliché soundtrack being the basis of the former and droney distortion-laden feedback for the latter. The music is as uncompromising as the band’s desire to experiment.
That being said, though, the band are better when they veer back into the folk that forms the basis of much of their discography. Frontman Seth Olinsky has a knack for simple yet gripping lyrics, such as “you can borrow money, but you can’t borrow time,” but this gets lost a lot in Sub Verses as the band attempt to create an anthemic sound. They clearly want to sound big, but they lose some much-needed intimacy in attempting that.
The band end off the album with lighter fare. “When I Was Young” has a vaguely slow dancey feel to it; like a 60s prom, only in slow motion. Like many other songs it is simply too drawn out. There only 10 songs in the album, but when they reach an average of five minutes in length it can start to get a little difficult to get through.
Akron/Family are never going to stop changing and you never really know what you’re gonna get, but they could perhaps do with a bit more cohesiveness and bit less grandiosity next time around.