Opening with a groove unlike anything Akron/Family have ever laid to tape, the first track on Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free kicks off a new chapter for the band. The percussive thunder and anthemic electric guitars of “Everyone is Guilty” make a bold statement, touching on everything from Fela Kuti to Sly and the Family Stone in under six psychedelic minutes. This is not the Akron/Family you think you know.
As “Everyone is Guilty” fades into “River” the band returns to something they have always been known for: writing a timeless hook. “River” delivers Ali Farka Toure-like guitar work, but this song is all about the infectious vocal melody.
As the album unfolds, Akron/Family’s musical explorations are virtually without limits. Whether it’s the celebratory sing-along gospel of “Gravelly Mountains of the Moon,” the lush folk sounds of “Sun Will Shine (Warmth of the Sunship Version),” or “MBF,” which lies at the intersection of primal punk rock and heavy free jazz, Akron/Family are a band boiling over with ideas. Their musical vocabulary runs deep – it’s not just Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young and the Grateful Dead that inform Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free. Akron/Family feel at home on this album, confident and self-assured.
Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free marks their first album recorded as a trio; Seth Olinsky, Miles Seaton and Dana Janssen became a three piece in 2007 after original member Ryan Vanderhoof left the band that fall. This is also the first time Akron/Family have self-produced an album, as well as their first recording since parting ways with their original label, Young God Records. These changes could not be more significant, and all are at the core of the Akron/Family’s transformation on Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free.
Following 2007’s Love is Simple, the band reconfigured their approach to touring. They brought along like-minded musicians such as Megafaun, the Dodos and Greg Davis, both as openers and as members of an ever-changing Akron/Family ensemble, bringing about cacophonous onstage jams interwoven between the band’s songs. Whether it’s the three members of Akron/Family – communicating and interacting with one another onstage with something like the visceral language of the classic John Coltrane or Albert Ayler ensembles – or upwards of a dozen guest musicians joining them, their live shows are becoming a thing of legend. Akron/Family’s 2008 Emo’s gig in Austin was one of these legendary performances. The band led the audience and nearly 20 musicians from the stage in an Arkestra-like free-for-all to a riotous, shirtless and sing-a-long parade in the streets. These unhinged performances have been witnessed by audiences at the Monolith, Isle of Wight, High Sierra, Coachella and End of the Road festivals, and since then word has traveled fast about the magic of Akron/Family. The trio of Olinsky, Seaton and Janssen is a sight to behold.
Following a year of making things bigger and wilder live, the band returns to something simpler on Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free. With limited outside assistance, this trio has made a focused, powerful and unified work. Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free maintains the communal spirit of the big band that won audiences over throughout the world, but it showcases Akron/Family at its core – three musicians, equals, creating music from deep within. Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free is something undeniably special and immensely powerful. Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free is the new psychedelic rock.