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Akron/Family “Sub Verses” –Album Review

Dead Oceans (2013)

If there’s one thing consistent in Akron/Family’s musical style—one thread or theme you can derive from them—it’s that psychedelia is timeless and without boundaries. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the band’s seventh release Sub Verses. Whether they are channeling 1960s Beach Boys or modern-day electronica, these psych-rockers are free-flowing in their experimentation with layers and sounds, filling the dream-space with sound and color that requires no hallucinogen to be experienced fully.

Indeed, it seems that no sound source is off-limits—whether it be the dissonant, film-score-like string patches on the chant-ish “Sometimes” or the sampled vocals and what sounds like a jar of beans being shaken in the complex drum loop of opener “No-Room,” or the buzzy “Holy Boredom” (which treats a distortion filter as though it were an actual instrument). If it makes noise, it’s fair game, and Akron/Family has the uncanny ability of blending the most unlikely combinations into something that is at least vaguely cohesive. (I say “vaguely” because this is psychedelic, after all. If it made too much sense…well…)

Even with this self-carved niche, fans expect some sort of growth and evolution from record to record. With Sub Verses, Akron/Family have changed course from 2011’s S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT by making their sound—well—bigger, I suppose, is the way to describe it. Even with the seemingly hundreds of layers within the tracks, there is a spit-and-polish to the sound that might make some loyalists cringe just a little bit. After all, this is a band known for improvisation during live performances, and something this well-oiled won’t quite fit the mold in the minds of some. However, the way I see it, the more layers you put into the music, the more a bit of structure is needed to keep the whole thing from descending into chaos. A bit of blur is to be expected with psych rock/folk, but with this album, the added production polish enables us to hear each layer in its place, rather than just becoming a wall of noise. The point is that even with all the experimentation and seemingly endless sonic horizons this band explores, there is still a bit of structure, a method to the madness. That’s what makes it good.

If you have never heard Akron/Family, be forewarned: this band is an acquired taste. You may have to sit with the music awhile before you “get it.” But fans of ultra-creative, mind-expanding music will dig the psychedelia of Sub Verses, and even with the extra polish, established fans should find plenty to be happy about.

3.5 / 5 stars     

About the Author


Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Kim Phelps found her inspiration and love for music listening to local bands play in the coffeehouses around town. She soon found her own voice as a singer-songwriter, and eventually began playing her own gigs in the coffee shops. Her personal influences include Ani DiFranco, Indigo Girls, Ingrid Michaelson and Cat Power, but as an indie musician herself, she has an affinity for any band or artist who pursues creative freedom on the outskirts of the music industry. As our Indie correspondent, Kim makes a point of highlighting up-and-coming independent acts who are creating a buzz and building an audience. When she's not blogging for us or playing in the coffee shops, Kim works as a barista herself to help pay the bills. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington.

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