had a teacher in high school who once screamed “WHY WON’T ANYONE LISTEN TO ME?!?” only to have one of my classmates calmly retort, “Maybe it’s because you passed out a sheet of rules at the beginning of the year that stated ‘1. Listen to me.’” Maybe you had to be there, but I feel like getting similarly snotty when Akron/Family’s Seth Olinsky repeatedly asks on “Dream Girl,” “Why don’t you recognize how psychedelic I am and love me?” Olinsky may well be a very psychedelic dude, but he tries so, so fucking hard.
Olinsky’s also in danger of prodding new folk’s big ol’ elephant—no toonz—back out from the lava lamp’d corner and into the center ring. Much of his three-disc solo stab, Sparrow Trout Heart Sprout, wades in pools of acoustic guitar and yellow ambience. Self-recording for the first time, the Best of Seth essentially = Akron/Family – harmony - most electric guitars + whimsy x 3.5.
The staunchest Akron defenders will barely be able to justify the length, as Olinsky has now put more music to tape than his more popular and more relevant band, though STHS does contain blueprints of several songs from Akron’s Meek Warrior. Clearly no attempt was made by Olinsky to parse through this material himself, and it’s not a problem if you go in knowing that experiencing the Best of Seth in any meaningful manner means biting into a chunk so large you’re still flossing bone fragments out of your teeth weeks later. Marvel, for instance, at the “bonus” track that completes STHS or the hidden track added to the end of the set’s 42nd go-round. “Sun Comes Up” is a five-minute joint containing two completely unrelated passages—but why mince tracks? Such oddities suggest Olinksy may have well been crafting an album, though three discs of wayward passages suggest that he was merely recording ideas.
Sparrow Trout Heart Sprout works best as ambient wash, when its pieces coalesce into vague clouds, which happens most often on the cosmically oriented second disc, Sun. Olinksy breaks little ground and he can’t hold a candle to, say, Ben Chasny as a psych-oriented acoustic player, but he’s a better-than-competent songwriter, and the charmingly repetitive “Space/Love à Space is Love” and the subtly percussive “No Space in This Realm” chirp and creak in lovely, non-threatening ways. Olinksy can be an evocative, involved arranger as well: “Rainbow Trout”’s ornery electric ramble and “Death Sparrow Blues”’ moaning handclaps give meaning to their titles.
His “quirkier” material gets him into trouble, though, sounding like Devendra circa 2000 castoffs: the insidious verse of “The Littlest Horse”—“Yes you are / The littlest horse in the world”—gets repeated two discs later on “Saddest Turtle.” Olinsky’s lyrics are startlingly limited given the circumstances: 90 percent of the songs involve space imagery, animal imagery, or broad statement/questions (“I must come to terms with what’s going on” or “It don’t seem right” chanted without explanation). Tiny, ornamental touches—a skittering mandolin on “Finland, Masked in Lupins,” a prickly banjo on “Dirt Road Cloud of Light”—work wonders when they appear, but they’re so infrequent that they ultimately end up mucked in Sparrow Trout Heart Sprout’s mountain of watercolor guitarbience.
None of this makes STHS unejoyable. In fact, it drifts so often and so pleasantly that it’s difficult to mount any real disdain. But it’s still a tough slog, and not one that will reward you with added insight or enjoyment for having completed it. Olinsky may or may not have a checklist of things “psychedelic”—animals, electronics, hazy repetition, etc.—on his nightstand, but any concerns about Johnny-come-lately trendfollowing should atrophy with STHS’s tender bedside manner; surely, this is one of the least-pretentious pretentious albums in recent memory. Olinsky proves himself a recording workhorse with few peers. Ride ’em until you’re sore, thank him kindly, and leave.