You think to yourself, “I’ve heard of this band.” You ponder what Ohio is like and the potential relationships of the members. You scold yourself for being an obvious simpleton when you read up on them and find out that Dana Janssen, Seth Olinsky and Miles Seaton are not from Akron and they are not family. Just like how Of Montreal are not from Montreal.
You put Sub Verses on the turntable (or in your drive, or double-click Spotify). When the shaking, rolling drums and haunted voices of “No Room” creep in, you aren’t entirely sure what’s to come, or how involved this is going to get. Oh! There are guitars. You may have been expecting some rock, and it’s definitely in there. The vocals advance with “once we begin to see,” over an unsettled arrangement with a gospel-tinged “oh my oh” to round off every line. A bit of psychedelia guides the melody into a free-time call-and-response incantation: “We took to tumbling.’” Things get very spoken word—even Jim Morrison-esque—only to reprise the rolling drums into a long drone, carrying us for over two minutes through the final fade of the song. And that was just track one.
The album continues its relay race of big fuzz, vocal arrangements and synth loops, Akron/Family being anything but a folk or acoustic act. And yet, again, here comes more intimate gospel–folk nuance on “Until The Morning,” as we share in the reflection: “And I had always wondered how you carried all that grief / I know it wasn’t right to saddle you with mine/and my life and my identity, I lay them at your feet / Sitting here broken in the mirror of your eyes.” Such a sentiment carries as much weight as the sundry arrangements embracing it. “Sometimes I” takes a startling turn, with an orchestral lead-in stabbed with discordant strings—just right for a slasher film. This is a fitting soundtrack, as our host leads us wearily through the trials of going out and in, concluding with “often I look out and I can’t see nothing in this life.”
Things pick up for side two, with the primitive chants and tribal drumming of “Holy Boredom” and the triumphant Zeppelin rock of “Sand Time,” spitting, “Can’t see the sky when you’ve lost your head.” We try street walking to a clickety-clack on “Whole World is Watching” and settling in to a noisy doo-wop for “When I Was Young.” “Samurai” is right as a closer, aerated by subtle pulses of sweet slide guitar and shaker, carrying us to the sea like a soft breeze. In this dreamy haze, we consider the song’s resigned closing phrase: “Death will be my fortune when I had nothin’.”
For as lush and cacophonous as things get, you ponder the possibility of all these songs evolving from acoustic guitar. How else could they have such a personal touch, rustic warmth and sense of intimacy? And you finally recognize that this is a glorious album, start to finish. It might have taken a few listens, but it was worth every one.