Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Live Blogging The New Akron/Family Thing

Part I: 1/6 & 2/6

A few months ago, a representative of Akron/Family's label Dead Oceans announced that that band's new record would be titled S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT and that the band members recorded it during a period of time spent living in the side of an active volcano in Japan while listening to underground noise cassettes. You can read all about the care put into the album's delivery method elsewhere. Note that Dead Oceans did not even receive a copy of the full album, only samples on a CD-R and a promise from the album's producer that it would "transcend the internet."

And yet, a few days ago, on Christmas day, a leak of the record began circulating and nobody really questioned it. Obviously the music took some people aback because if the leak was any evidence, Akron/Family were gearing up to release a noise record, full of blown out brutality in addition to gorgeous ambient passages, but little in the way of the psychedelic indie folk tendencies that many of their fans go to their music for. The only identifiable moments that fall into that category sound heavily edited and distorted, endlessly remixed and buried under mounds of noise and effects. But there was very little talk of the skull on the cover art that came attached to the files... or the presence of the numbers "2/6" and the color alterations of the cover art from what had been originally revealed months earlier. Or the song titles that seemed to have been written using some kind of pseudo witch house/2010 M.I.A. aesthetics.

I played the leaked record twice, the second listen much louder and more enjoyable than the first. I liked that they went as far as they did. For most of the time that I've spent following them (since 2005), I've known that they are some of the most peerlessly freaky motherfuckers making music in the western world. Without penning a massive treatise laying out all the reasons why I like them, I will say that their versatility had me stunned from the beginning... creating an hour long melodic folk masterpiece here, unleashing some of the most electrifyingly assaultive classic rock freak-outs of the modern day there. On Meek Warrior, I found out that they were into free jazz and were comfortable with releasing a heavy psychedelic stomper about riding dolphins. On Love Is Simple, I found out that they really are hippies who are here to make all my Crazy Horse/Dead/Yes/The Band dreams come fucking true. Seeing them on that tour, I realized that they are incredibly funny gentlemen who will do just about anything to make their performances more amusing for themselves. As I might have guessed from hearing the records, they lacked the highly reserved qualities of many artists and writers associated with independent music. They have loads of humility and an appreciation of the absurd, which is a lot rarer than it should be. Sometimes they write embarrassingly simplistic lyrics communicating embarrassingly simplistic messages, sometimes they kick out the jams and melt the unsuspecting freak folk audience's face for an entire show, sometimes they slip in a couple Dead covers because why the fuck would a band get up on stage and not blow minds with an extended take on "Turn On Your Lovelight"? They've gotten increased exposure over time, sure, but I wouldn't say that they've "crossed over," oh, no. Definitely not, which is a bit odd for a band whose debut record hit so many indie rock sweet spots at the time.

I say all this because I'm not sure if many others have really caught on at this point. With the records that they've done since 2005, I've encountered a lot of statements saying, "They've lost it" or "This album sucks" or "They'll never match the s/t" or "This is their best since the s/t, they finally have it again," with the most oddly polarizing release in their catalog being 2007's Love Is Simple. The detractors miss the humor, the classic rock references, the impressively carried out avant-garde leanings, the way they seriously jam as an ensemble and how that sets them apart from the accepted images of precious bearded indie folk wieners... put these things together and you get a band that far too few people actually give a fuck about, whose general excellence is not reflected by their position in the current critical discourse, too weird for indie fans, too direct and song-oriented for the noisy psych crowd.

S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT. Let's assume that that title is meaningless bullshit. It is an articulation of the concept of their new record as laid out in their message to Dead Oceans, built around a goofy as hell exaggeration of the cosmic "hippy" persona. I'm familiar with their performances. They're hysterical. They play the theme from Top Gun while the short mustachioed bassist waves a Confederate flag. They fill their set on the "Folk Stage" at the Metronome Festival with screaming and effects pedal wankery and end it all by leading the crowd in a chant of "CIRCLE! TRIANGLE! SQUARE!" while some guy working at the festival gets on the drums. They play a show at the London Astoria the same week as a regularly occurring "gay night" and insist on turning on the big neon sign that flashes the word "GAY" behind them as they perform. They are not beyond seeing being in a well liked band as an opportunity to do stupid shit just because it amuses them.

Which brings me to the situation surrounding their upcoming record, as it stands, right now. Several hours ago, on December 28th, I came across a second leak of the album. The song titles were slightly different on this one. Even the album title tag was slightly differentiated from the first ("and" was now "adn" and the "< sbmb >" between the words "of" and "Shinju" was replaced by "< gdbmb >"... I had to add spaces into those because as written, they fuck up the HTML tagging. Blog terrorism!) On the cover art for the new leak... "1/6." The musical content? Similar idea to "2/6", but where the general sound of that one often brought to mind the sounds of indie groups dabbling with noise textures (Fuck Buttons, HEALTH, Animal Collective, etc.), this one most often resembled a full on abrasive headfuck, mining the kinds of territory that nobody but the most extreme harsh noise and sound collage artists ever even bother with. Who would have thought that the nice boys who sang "I'll Be On The Water" would one day be channeling Kevin Drumm, Merzbow, and To Live & Shave In L.A.? It's almost too gloriously unexpected to be something that would actually happen. Even I doubted that they were capable of pulling off such abstract brutality with this much ease.

And I say this with the full knowledge that there are doubters and that we have no idea what this music is or what the new Akron/Family record actually sounds like. I have a hypothesis that has only been strengthened during the past eight hours since it was formed. I believe that this is Akron/Family's idea of what happens when an album "transcends the internet." It is the ultimate way for these guys to just fuck with people and the very idea of internet based music culture. The endless message board discussions and shitfits that ensue with every move that a band makes, the excitement surrounding leaks, witch house... the entire S/T II project is an enormous cosmic joke on anyone who buys into these things. Or maybe that's not it at all. A friend of the band did confirm that the to-be-released product has not actually leaked yet and that what people have heard are in fact head splittingly noisy deconstructions of the finished album that have been assembled and unleashed by the band members themselves as a "prank." But the fact that he felt the need to provide such reassurance just proves that whoever the hell this guy is, he doesn't really get it and he's not combatting anything. The mighty Ak Ak cannot be stopped. During this same night, the band's Twitter was updated with this mysterious and highly unrevealing tweet: "Omg! YouTube new acorn/factory leak! Holy balls. Awesome!!!" Select "Get Info" on a song from either leak and you'll see that under "Composer," it says, "'S BMB +++{{{Giant amazing ACIPD PUNK MIND BMBEd MEler FACE}}}+++" and under "Grouping," the words "U BN BOMBD" (surrounding by multiple "<"s and ">"s on either end but again, I couldn't post them properly here without the formatting getting screwed up.)

What I'm trying to say here is that whatever is going on here, I have faith that one of my favorite bands actually did go to this much trouble for a ridiculous internet prank. And I am genuinely impressed by what has leaked so far, no matter what we end up referring to these recordings as in the future. For a band that has always expressed a fondness for fairly out there musical stylings, they sound shockingly adept at the arguably against type sounds that they're exploring here, particularly on the "1/6" edition of the S/T II leak. My ears aren't broken. I can make out the source material bubbling up to the surface every now and then, and I can also hear that there was some genuine effort put into the arrangement of these sounds. Saying, "It's a prank!" doesn't matter because they're pranking listeners with some damn fine music. If this plays out in the way that I think it's been doing, Akron/Family will be essentially controlling the leak of their album in a way that is as comically frustrating for some fans as it is rewarding for others, all while taking the inevitable concept of the "leak" period as an opportunity to create more art that stands on its own. And when you consider that at least the first leak has probably already been posted to private torrent trackers as an official rip of the completed S/T II album, the Akron/Family members' efforts to make a gigantic mess of their album's web presence is basically foolproof until the to-be-released version somehow makes its way onto the internet.

Maybe I'm biased because last year I spent several days of my life lovingly piecing together a fake leak of an upcoming Vampire Weekend album that got about 5,000 downloads in a little over a month before finally getting taken down. But I think that no matter what S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT sounds like and no matter whether or not Akron/Family dumps four more 50 minute long wacked out noise records onto the internet within the next five weeks, this whole ordeal is fucking brilliant. And dare I say innovative. And I couldn't be happier that Akron/Family is the semi-high profile band that's bothering to carry it out.

And all while having this music associated with a label that releases Bishop Allen records.


Michael K. said...

I've just been ignoring A/F. Really liked the first album, but only had an itunes copy and somehow it's play became disabled on my computer. And then they did that one w/ Angels of Light and I didn't really know what to do with that: was it an AoL album or an A/F album? So I just started ignoring them because it was too difficult to keep up. But I see now that I was missing it, that maybe the difficulty is part of the point, or that maybe I can love and respect a mess these days instead of needing my music to stay w/i tiny boxes. Inspiring writing, as ghey as that sounds; stoked to be listening to these things as they happen.

Leif Garret(t) said...

Dude, you need to hear Split LP. Even if you ignore Love Is Simple, which a lot of people hate but knowing your tastes you might love it even more.

First side is next level electric rock music from A/F. A lot of people are still judging everything they've done since up against "Moment" and "Raising The Sparks." Second side is Michael Gira singing some dark americana shit while A/F back him and sound damn great.

Anonymous said...

Hey, not sure if you'll ever read this but I'm looking for the 2/6 version of this album, since I deleted my archive... If you have it, please could you email me a download link at ?
Thanks a lot, if you do. It was one of my favourites of the year and now I can't find it anywhere.