Akron/Family - "Silly Bears" (Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT)
There is very little information about Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT out there. What small amount exists is just a jokey press release about how the band delivered the album to their label, Dead Oceans, in a box, which included a poorly made diorama and a crayon-scrawled tracklist. This is, of course, encouraging. A name like Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT means one of two things. Either Dana Janssen, Seth Olinsky and Miles Seaton have traveled up their own assholes into the land of utter pretension or they’re having a laugh. It’s sometimes tough to discern unless you intimately know the artist. It’s no strawman argument to say there’s a lot of faux-artistry and overblown pomposity out there in the music/art/film world, a lot of long silly titles that are meant to be taken very, very seriously. We know the broad stereotype from film and TV, trotted out in some Farrelly Brothers film to be horrified in a snobs vs. slobs blitzkrieg or ironically used as a foil for the artist anti-hero of a quietly snarky indie flick. And anyone who’s gone to a nice gallery in Tribeca or Chelsea or hung out for five minutes at the Bedford L stop knows that the stereotype may be broad, but is largely accurate.
It’s a joke, though. Press release or not, Akron/Family has never struck me as a pretentious band. Expansive, ambitious in scope, sure, but down to Earth — songs grounded in emotion, and although the warning signs of pretension are there, they are used humorously. The band seems constantly in good humor, and that feeling, in particular, emanates from Akron/Family II.
There are two emotions (or feelings, or ideas) the album is particularly good at inspiring: joyousness and beauty. The joyousness comes in large part from the way the songs are constructed, with rich, layered singing and background harmonies, uplifting choruses and striking sharp guitar melodies, and in general just the way these songs are attacked; it is from a happy place, and that feeling comes through strongly.
A lot of albums have harmonies and complex structures and are pretty albums that come from pretty bands. Grizzly Bear, for instance. I like them enough, though I’ve never really felt compelled to put on any album of theirs. They’re nice enough, sure, but Akron/Family II really captures a feeling of happiness and at the same time melancholy, and that’s what makes it beautiful: those two feelings at the same time.