I don't think it can be said enough: Thank the musical gods for hard-working, underpaid, creative-for-creativity's-sake indie artists. While MTV and terrestrial radio would have you believe the market is bloated with bubblegum pop and emo metal, most of you know better. Thankfully, so do a host of underground musicians determined to create their own music through their own vision. So it goes for Seth Olinsky, one-fourth of popular freak-folkers Akron/Family. Olinsky's plate would seem full to casual observers: Akron/Family have more than a few tour CD-Rs and proper albums floating about, just waiting for the next unsuspecting listener to stumble upon with open ears and wide eyes.
Apparently that's not enough material for Olinsky, who now beseeches us with his three-disc solo debut Sparrow Trout Heart Sprout. Each disc is broken down thematically (Sun, Sparrow, and Trout), and though the easy analysis would be to state how the songs on each disc are as bright, feathery, and scaly as their disc titles would have you imagine, the division by themes doesn’t really hold up. Most of these songs would be in the midst of the Venn Diagram that is Sparrow Trout Heart Sprout. Recorded in between Akron/Family’s first album and tour, the album is both introspective and retrospective. We are granted access to Olinsky’s most intimate thoughts and habits (“Songs for Chris and Ed,” “Ghost of Katie,” and “As It Was in the Beginning, It is Now”) as well as the humble beginnings of Meek Warrior (“Meek Warrior,” “Blessing Force,” and Lord, Open My Heart,” now fully formed as “Love and Space”).
However, don’t expect Sparrow Trout Heart Sprout to be as forceful and spastic as Akron/Family output. There are the occasional guttural freak-outs (“Always Gone,” “No Dada for You Baba”), poetic non-sequiturs (“Where the Grass Tells Me”), and trippy campfire sing-alongs (“Top of the Mountain,”) most associated with the merry men of Akron/Family, but Best of Seth shines brightest when the songs are meager and quaint. For example, the mountain folk of “On the Battlefield/Authentic Man” is a refreshing glass of lemonade on a hot summer’s day, while “Finland, Masked in Lupins” is a bluesy and soulful acoustic journey of meditation.
Sparrow Trout Heart Sprout is full of musical exploration that exists outside the Akron/Family boundaries while also embracing a quasi communal ethos considered to be the band’s trademark. Best of Seth offers a rare glimpse into the process of musical creation and construction, and for that alone, Sparrow Trout Heart Sprout is worth the time. The fact that these three discs just happen to contain sweet melodies and gentle experimentation should just be icing on the cake.