Shrouded in secrecy and decoy track leaks, Akron/Family’s sixth studio album came bearing almost too much hype. Alongside its physical release (Feb. 8, on Dead Oceans), fans and followers were gifted with a doozy of a backstory, involving blown deadlines, mysterious packages, and recording on the side of a volcano. Then came the title, S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT, a moniker too lengthy to not be considered ostentatious. Lucky for us (and the band), then, that S/T II manages to supersede its own ridiculous yarn. From the opening bars of lead track “Silly Bears” to the otherworldly “Fuji I (Global Dub),” there is a buoyant, slightly chaotic energy that marks the album. It’s a signal of new beginnings for the almost-decade-old outfit, as well as a step forward in Akron’s ongoing battle to find itself.
Since forming in 2002, the band (multi-instrumentalists Dana Janssen, Seth Olinsky, Miles Seaton, and former member Ryan Vanderhoof) has pushed the limits of genre specifications, often getting lumped in with the “freak folk” rise-up of the early 2000s. In recent years, though, the quartet-turned-trio has moved away from their jammier roots, incorporating more electronics, world beats, and percussive elements on both this and their first as a three-piece, 2009’s Set ’em Wild, Set ’em Free.
“We had to go through this kind of rebirth after Ryan left the band,” recalled Janssen recently. “Becoming a three-piece after being a four-piece, it’s a huge process. It took a lot of work and a lot of effort and we felt like out of that something new was coming. S/T II is kind of this statement of reasserting ourselves.”
It’s that energy and sense of collaboration that Janssen feels helped make S/T II what it is. He describes long back-of-the-van storyboarding sessions that the trio used to help get to the root of the record. “We wanted it to retain these joyous qualities; we wanted it to have a celebratory sort of vibe; we wanted it to be inviting, new, futuristic. … From seed to harvest, it was this collaborative effort of determining what we wanted to make, which was a really great experience.”
As their cryptic press release reinforces, the band also drew heavily on their time touring in Japan to help inform S/T II, even returning to the island to pen a large chunk of the album. The influence is notable, both in the record’s title and its artwork (a striking image of an exploding volcano adorns the front cover) and in its soundscapes. “The first time we went, it was insanely inspiring. It was a really, truly foreign experience for me,” said Janssen. “We wanted to create with that as an element, as something on our tool belt. Environmental influence is something that I’ve always been aware of; creating in my room versus creating in Japan, it’s a completely different thing.”
In the live setting, too, the band has long been known for creating environments, inviting fans on stage to rock out and morphing songs into experimental amalgamations of their recorded counterparts. Nowadays, Janssen points out, live is where Akron/Family shines, having moved past the awkwardness of learning how to function as a trio.
“[Touring] Set ’em Wild was about finding ourselves again, finding our voice again, learning how to play and how to create as just the three of us,” he explained. “It was a long, long process, and it’s still not complete, but it’s nice to be where we are now. I feel more confident in all of us in terms of our expression, in terms of our trust levels, in terms of our friendship levels, all of it. It feels really progressive to me.”
Akron/Family plays SOhO (1221 State St.) on Thursday, April 7, at 8 p.m. with opener Delicate Steve. Call 962-7776 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets.