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AKRON/FAMILY
S/T II
Dead Oceans
Format: CD / 2LP / MP3
Release Date: February 8, 2011
By Steve McPherson February 14, 2011

There are going to be a lot of people who love this latest Akron/Family record, and they’ll be completely right about why they like it. It sounds, for one, stupendous. The first cut, “Silly Bears,” opens with a gloriously primal bashing that gives way to a propulsively chunky bass line that threatens to swallow the track whole. The guitars are wild and wooly, the drums sound earthy and geologic. Elsewhere, the delicate beauty of “Fuji II (Single Pane)” is in perfect counterpoint to the anthemic swoop of “Another Sky.” Based on sonics alone, the record camps in a comfortable spot at the intersection of Grizzly Bear’s scratch and dent aesthetic, Animal Collective’s pluralistic layering, and Yeasayer’s worldly grind—and that’s a great place to be.

But doubts about the record’s real merit begin to creep in when scratching the surface doesn’t yield a deeper vein of meaning or construction. The lyrics traffic heavily in utopian banalities, dominated as they are by fireflies and oceans and branches and bears. On repeated listening, that opening cut, “Silly Bears,” impresses with its quick change intro. But then the vocals come in, sinsonging, “One silly bear said to the other silly bear / Where’d you get that honey, that honey so sweet?” It just seems kind of fluffy for how thick and massive the music sounds.

The melodies, likewise, seem to follow the path of least resistance rather than carving new figures out of the songs’ structures. This means the tunes tend not to stick with you, although the best of them (the aforementioned “Fuji II (Single Pane)” and “Another Sky,” as well as “So It Goes” and “Light Emerges”) merit multiple listens. Again, what charm there is here is largely down to just how damn big and burly everything feels. Plenty of records have succeeded largely by that measure—French Kicks’ Swimming comes to mind immediately—and so questions about deeper layers should be soundly roundhoused into the corner by those looking for the simple joy of an exceedingly well-recorded album.

Ultimately, S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT is perhaps best judged according to e.e. cummings, who said that “since feeling is first / who pays any attention / to the syntax of things / will never wholly kiss you.” Shut down concerns about depth, and the sound will carry you.

Visit: Akron/Family | Dead Oceans
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