Love Is Simple | Review

Steve Wildsmith | Daily Times

a mood of wild abandon, a sort of freedom that comes from having shaken off the shackles of the city

Towering skyscrapers, canyons of glass and steel, concrete and car exhaust, honking horns and the cacophony of life in New York City: It can be a little overwhelming for visitors, let alone those who live there on a daily basis.

As much as the Big Apple has played a part in the music made by Akron/Family, its influence has also faded as the years have past, and on the band’s most recent album, “Love Is Simple,” there’s a mood of wild abandon, a sort of freedom that comes from having shaken off the shackles of the city.

“We started in New York, but we’ve toured non-stop since our first record was released in March 2005,” Akron/Family guitarist Seth Olinsky told The Daily Times during a recent interview. “We’ve been around the States four times, we’ve been to South America and Canada, we recorded ‘Meek Warrior’ (the band’s sophomore album) while touring, and then we toured another year. When it came time to make this record, we wanted to get out of the city. We went to Pennsylvania and holed up in my parents’ garage and just took time to write and play new songs for each other.

“It was the first time in years that we had taken time to work up new songs together, and after we toured to work on them, we went into the woods in New Jersey to record this album. I think it sort of summarizes the first three albums we released (the self-titled debut, “Meek Warrior” and a split album with the band Angels of Light). All of those were very disjunctive from each other, and I think this record captures what’s best of each of those and put it out there in a way that’s more accessible and more clear.”

The four members of Akron/Family — Olinsky, Dana Janssen, Miles Seaton and Ryan Vanderhoof, all of whom play various instruments and sing — moved to New York in 2002, where they holed up in Brooklyn and subsequently recorded roughly three albums worth of music on primitive home equipment. The end result is a chopped-up and reassembled series of atmospheric songs that defy easy categorization.

The members aren’t afraid to experiment — from implementing the strangely melodic sounds of a squeaking chair to all four members simultaneously beating their chests on such early songs as “Rainforest.” It’s reminiscent of the unusual and offbeat street performances one can find along the corridors of Manhattan’s glass-and-concrete canyons, although the ideas put down on record by the four Akrons are wholly original.

“On our first record, living in the city and working out of it had a distinct effect,” Olinsky said. “Now, we’re on the road and working on music wherever we happen to be. We’re not so New York-centric anymore, and what we do doesn’t fit into that group of bands from New York. We love it, and we’ve definitely been inspired by things from there, but now, none of us really even live there.

“We’ve relocated to Pennsylvania, and it’s working out well. I think being in the city can be a creatively overwhelming experience sometimes. It’s so fashion-oriented, and I think we all kind of found ourselves over the last few years, and what our ideas aren’t always lining up with what’s fashionable.”

Whether it’s fashionable or not, “Love Is Simple” is a moving and infectious album. From the tribal drumming and shout-singing of “Ed Is a Portal” to the psychedelic build-up of “There’s So Many Colors” to the frenetic pace of “I’ve Got Some Friends” to the classical-guitar intro of “Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music for Moms,” there’s an eclectic nature that’s endearing on “Love Is Simple.” It never veers too far into the territory of the obscure or weird-for-the-sake-of-being-weird, but it’s certainly offbeat and quirky. It’s hard not to like it, though, and the beauty is in the thought the band put into making it — repeated listenings reveal hidden nuances that add polish and shine to the Akron/Family art form.

“We like to have fun, to create new sounds and new songs, and at this point, it’s something we kind of all do,” Olinsky said. “I think, on this record, we’re focused more on the playing of our instruments whereas before, we were focused on the overall sonic experience. We worked with a different producer, and he got us to focus more on bass playing and guitar playing and singing, and I think it helped us grow as a live band a lot by focusing on our roles, specifically.

“We were going for something a little more clear and more defined in the songs themselves. We were less into filling in the blanks with crazy little sounds; I think a lot of that came out of earlier times when things were developed in homes and apartments, and we used what was at hand to do what we wanted.”

The tribal sounds that shimmer through on more than one song on “Love Is Simple” is a reflection of the members’ broadening interest in different music. When the band stops at The Bijou Theatre in downtown Knoxville tonight, the members hope to have some extra musicians in tow who can flesh out those studio sounds in a live setting. The songs themselves, though, are coming from a different place, and it’s a sign of a maturing band that turns inward for musical exploration.

“I remember a quote from a saxophonist one time who was talking about how as a younger musician, he was influenced by other music, but as he got older, his music started becoming less influenced by music and more by life in general,” Olinsky said. “The more we tour, the more experience we build up, the older we get — we seem to draw less from other music we listen to and the sounds we’re interested in and more from our lives and relationships and experiences and travel.”