About that title. According to Akron/Family’s press release, ‘no, we have no idea what that means’. So that bodes well for making sense of this album, then…
In the best possible way, S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT is a very daft album indeed. Opener ‘Silly Bears’, dedicated to all the fun and frivolity of Friday night socialising, is quite literally asking bears where they found their honey. Because apparently we are calling giant forest-dwelling bears silly now. Not something I would do when faced with something huge with pointy teeth wanting to eat me, but then again it’s not my album. I imagine the Akron/Family fellas laugh in the face of impending digestion, so they can get away with such things. Although by ‘honey’ I suspect they might actually mean ‘booze’ so there may be a considerable amount of Dutch courage going on during this particular human/bear confrontation.
The lunacy doesn’t stop there. ‘Fuji I (Global Dub)’ has an intro straight out of the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon soundtrack, before launching straight into classic Seventies Americana rock. Its sequel ‘Fuji II (Single Pane)’ opens on pouring rain, moves into children playing on a soaked neighbourhood street, settles on atmospheric bongo-driven ballad and finishes up with what sounds distinctly like a sax solo. ‘Everything but the kitchen sink’ doesn’t come close to this.
Given the album’s sprawling landscape, it’s not always an instant success. ‘A AAA O A WAY’ - no, my keyboard’s not broken - is the most overtly ‘Experimental! Fuck yeah!’ moment on the album. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered into a test lab filled with shamanic robots reinventing scales. There’s a few moments like that dotted through the album, their saving grace always being that they end up giving way to melodic euphoria: the raindance before, well, the rain. It’s not always an easy listen, but fortunately there’s more than enough on offer here to overcome the occasional blip and keep even the most casual listener hooked.
The album’s highest points comes smack bang in the middle. ‘Another Sky’ is a joyous stomp through the excitement and fear of starting new relationships and starting over old ones: “And though we can’t deny the fear that grows of being swallowed whole / We will row to sunny shores and start again / Beneath another sky...”. ‘Cast A Net’ is the polar opposite, a luscious yet folksy and somehow haunting sing-song around the campfire. And between the two sits ‘Light Emerges’, starting as a lullaby on glockenspiel before bursting into life with dirty squealing guitars, tribal drums and gigantic harmonies, tailor-made for the band’s inevitable explosion into the festival mainstream. The trio are the most immediate examples of the album's average-Joe musings about life, love and narcotic honey sessions with bears, while sounding like they’re from a completely different solar system.
By conventional wisdom, this album shouldn’t work. Indeed it’s extremely rare that any album wearing such disparate influences, so openly, ever avoids sounding like anything other than a mess. The insane thing is that here it not only works, but the result is an absolute triumph. It’s almost certainly the most fun, albeit of the bewildered and slightly confused kind, that you’ll have listening to any album this year.
So then, back to that title. Completely nonsensical, yes; yet also the perfect way of describing this album as the whimsy-filled journey through life it is. Drenched in atmosphere, it’s very difficult to listen to this album and not find yourself transported to some remote pocket of American desert, ruled by the mystics, awaiting the return of this week’s Messiah from Neptune. And if it felt anything like listening to this album does, that would be a wondrous place to be.
8Krystina Nellis's Score