Akron/Family have been mislabeled one way or another for as long as they've been around. Freak-folk, post-rock, neo-psych -- none of these descriptions is really accurate, and yet there's at least a grain of truth in each of them. That's because they've pursued a truly syncretic approach from the beginning, forging a sound that finds equal space for folk, avant-jazz, stoner-friendly beard-rock, free-form freakouts, and more. On their fourth album, Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free, they've simultaneously intensified and refined that blend, even as they've shaved off one of their original four members.
From the very first track, "Everyone Is Guilty," the band's multifarious methods are apparent, as the percolating groove and angular riffs evoke a sonic smoothie poured from a blender full of Tortoise, Fela Kuti, and Relayer-era Yes. The journey continues apace from there on, as everything from breakbeats to plangent acoustic balladry joins the party. If there's anything that can be called an Akron/Family trademark at this point, it's the moments when the rhythm section works up a free-flowing funk bottom over which they float gang-vocal chants with melodies that rise dramatically like 21st-century sea shanties.
There's something about it that helps mark Set 'Em Wild -- and Akron/Family itself -- as somehow distinctly American. Something this hardy, adventurous, and yet impressively unpretentious just couldn't have come from anywhere else. Maybe the band realized this on some level when they decided to grace the front cover with the old stars 'n' stripes.
Maybe the title Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free is an allusion to the departure of Akron/Family member Ryan Vanderhoof, which now makes Akron/Family a trio, but the title more likely has to do with the band's expansive, tripped-out musical leanings. So what exactly is being set free on this release?
According to member Miles Seaton, "I wouldn't say out of the box we sound like a whole new band, but there's a couple of extreme elements on this record. There's one track that emphasizes our fondness for extreme noise and painful, almost guttural sounds." "Extreme elements," and "painful, almost guttural sounds" definitely sounds like the thing they're letting off the farm sounds like it's got teeth.