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Akron/Family, ‘Sub Verses’ – Album Review

If you weren’t there, you never quite know what it was like in the mid-’00s, when Akron/Family rose to notability not because of hit songs or even must-hear albums, but rather because of the scene that surrounded them. You see similar stories regarding No Age and the So So Glos and their home venues — L.A.’s the Smell and NYC’s Shea Stadium, respectively — but for Akron/Family, the key locale was apparently a Williamsburg coffee shop called ‘Gimme Coffee.’

We say “apparently” because we weren’t there, but for those not living in Brooklyn, the mystique and intrigue surrounding Akron/Family were among the strongest of the time, which now seems almost unbelievable, given the band’s current standing. ‘Sub Verses,’ their seventh album, has to be their least anticipated since the group’s primary audience was still confined to Brooklyn, and that’s the result of idiosyncratic, at times abrasive and always unpredictable performances and albums that have made it difficult to attract new fans over the years. Even loyalists treat the trio as something of a curiosity.

With all of this in mind, ‘Sub Verses’ surprises on all fronts. Not since their beginning have Akron/Family seemed so full of potential. Here, they weave songs that lack nothing in emotional charge, sonic invention, nuanced harmonies or lyrical puzzles. The compositions are warm and inviting, evoking the sensation of visiting old friends — ones who are never content to simply reflect on the old days, but who, insisting future moments matter most, would rather make new memories. For the first time in a long time, Akron/Family seem important, and you can’t help but think that if this record had arrived in 2007, it would have landed them in a place similar to where Animal Collective have gone with their experimental and psych-influenced tunes.

The opening four numbers of ‘Sub Verses’ are electric and tight, and to describe their sound would be like ordering every flavor at the ice cream shop: messy to the untrained palette but sweet as hell when you get down to it — and the fulfillment of an indulgence we’ve all dreamed of since childhood. ‘Way Up’ blasts distorted guitars and cymbal crashes like punches to the chin, while the primitive harmonies keep it from becoming too difficult a listen. ‘Until The Morning’ answers that song’s cry with a gentle, affectionate arm around the shoulder, preparing the listener for the full-volume, hedonistic freakout of ‘Sand Talk.’ By the end the disc’s opening 20-minute run, the listener is prepared for anything, aware that such a determined album opening is rare.

And this is all smart, because ‘Sometimes I’ introduces drone into the mix without much wiggle room, and in the context of ‘Sub Verse,’ it’s not an impossible sell, considering what the listener has already experienced. The album drifts further and further into disorienting song structures, macabre sound manipulation techniques and even emotional revelations, but it never feels “out there,” and that’s down to Akron/Family’s now-extensive experience.

‘Sub Verses’ ends with the band seemingly holding nothing back, and considering their previous few releases, this wasn’t just an important decision — it was necessary. As Akron/Family continue to resist being put into a box, their desire to maintain a connection to their bohemian past has held them back. ‘Sub Verses’ sounds like a fresh start. As full of ideas as it is loaded with questions, it reignites some of the intrigue surrounding the project.

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