Akron Family – S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT

Rating: ★★★★☆

Forget all the hubbub and hype surrounding this release, as Akron Family deserve far more respect that to label their newest record some sort of creation via clever marketing.  On The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT you will likely find hints of the band’s past throughout, but not a group to rest their, they push their sound, and all their influences to new extremes.

“Silly Bears” kicks in with this really heavy riff, and for a minute, you’ll swear you just put on a Sleigh Bells record. Don’t be alarmed though, stomping drums continue, but a slithering guitar line meanders in and out, all the while the band do their best to contain the exuberance in their voices, until it explodes at the 4 min. 29 sec. mark. The track’s bombastic and all over the place, but that’s why its great. Juxtaposed is “Island,” a much slower track, filled to the brim with cinema-like atmospherics atop a hollow drum.  The vocals enter softly “off the coast of Mexico” and you’ll find yourself casually rocking back and forth on some sort of beach hammock.  Such restraint in this moment is why the band’s listens are so endearing, never afraid to go someplace completely different than where you thought you were headed.

Even more shocking for some listeners are the moments when the band give you two contradicting moods within a track, and do it successfully.  Listening to “Another Sky” you’ll get claustrophobic, as there seems to be so much going on; there’s what sound like drum rolls on the rim of the kit, crazy soloing guitars, “oohoohoohs” chanting in the background.  Then a bit of a clap-a-long breaks it all down into something momentarily quiet, resting primarily on the vocals, but the tension still builds to its eventual release.  It’s a brief soft moment, almost a pause, but just the slightest change in formula creates an emotional release for band and listener alike.

Personally, I’ll admit that I like when Akron Family stick to the traditional songwriting mode.  “Light Emerges” uses what one assumes are island percussive elements and just hints of guitar to give the vocals somewhere to walk.  And walk they do, but they also rise high, just before briefly stopping.  It’s then that the band breaks it down for a second, but those elements are then consumed by the song itself, sucked up into the fury that wraps itself around much of The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT.  These types of tracks are far more successful, and appealing, when placed next to noisier moments such as “Say What You Want To,” a song that borders on pure mindless noise at moments.  Yes, there are clear moments of skill and craft within, but rambunctious moments just don’t seem as successful.

Clearly, Akron Family are not your ordinary band, and in being such, they’re not likely to make a record that you can just sit and absorb.  They push your ears in all directions, begging you to deconstruct the songs as you seem fit, filling tracks with as much, or as little (“Canopy”), as they wish.  There are certain times when it all seems to be too much, yet they pull you back in with just a light change in direction in the middle of a track.  Such gentle moves are only a mark of the maneuvering and talent that lays within The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/01-Silly-Bears-11.mp3]

Download: Akron/Family – Silly Bears [MP3]

Sleigh Bells – Treats

Rating: ½☆☆☆☆

Sure, you could say that we’re a little bit late on getting into the whole Sleigh Bells Treats hype, but we do have our reasons.  The first one is that the album didn’t actually make it out until today.  Our second reason is that we’re (ATH) just not into it at all, and we haven’t been for quite some time (since the beginning to be honest).   The question for most of you will be can we legitimately rally against this album with substance rather than just go against the grain.

First, let me get the fun factor out of the way.  I see that some people might find this an enjoyable record to listen to while they’re prepping for the evening, and I respect your right to feel that way.  But, I’m not sure where the fun is being generated from.  Opening track “Tell Em'” has some watered down arena rock power chords thrown in there, and the beats are probably one of the more annoying things I’ve come across, not to mention the fact that they aren’t interesting in the least bit.  Perhaps it’s the banging beats that resemble some sort of cheesy radio-friendly single, or the fact that her vocals in some part greatly resemble MIA, who I’m personally not into either.

Speaking of lacking originality, my main factor for hating this band is their blatant rip off of The Kills.  I promise you that if you were to go and listen to the construction of the songs, you would notice some striking similarities.  For instance, take “Infinity Guitars” then go listen to The Kills “Alphabet Pony.”  It’s far too similar for this to be merely a coincidence, and since Derek comes from a sort of punk background, he’ll likely know about Alison Mosshart if he knows his history.  Instead of the dirtiness of The Kills, Sleigh Bells is using a more metal guitar sound, and what sounds a lot like reggaeton dance beats (the uninspired ones).  Personally, neither of those attributes really instills any emotions within, and despite being awfully loud, the musical sounds just aren’t really progressive enough to catch my attention.

And at time, Alexis is just moaning or making grunts into the microphone during the entirety of songs, such as “Rachel.”  I’m not sure how that qualifies as fun or enjoyable, but I know a lot of people out there who seem to be enjoying it.   Really, the most disruptive thing about Treats is the fact that I feel like I’m in some high school gymnasium preparing for the big homecoming football game against our bitter rivals.  Alexis is that annoying cheerleader you all think is hot, but you  probably hate (not that I hate Alexis, or know her even), who just yells to pump you all up while you stomp your feet on the bleachers.  How is that interesting?  I hated pep rallies, and having to endure an album’s worth of pep rally is just far too much for this listener.

So, in conclusion, you should go listen to The Kills (they’re far better).  You’ll love Sleigh Bells (or hate them) for all of about ten minutes of Treats before you realize that it’s not really fun, and in fact, its quite grating.  There are better bands that use electronics and guitar parts for a far more creative output.  Then again, this is all just one man’s opinion, so please don’t take offense.  You’re allowed to like what you like, and I’m allowed to have my voice, so let’s leave it at that, remaining friends forever.

**Note** This review is in no way sponsored by The Kills or approved by The Kills.