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Akron/Family | Review

Blogcrtitics.org | Caryn Rose

This is some freaky shit.

It's like Syd Barrett if he didn't go insane and start climbing trees, it's early Pink Floyd if they didn't suck, there's Nick Drake. It sounds like someone found these guys somewhere in South Dakota, because these songs sound like South Dakota, they sound open and clean and clear, like a life in which you can actually hear silence, and like the people who wrote them get up every day and have nothing but horizon stretching for as far as they can see. They do NOT sound like they were written in Brooklyn, it almost breaks my heart in a way to find out that they were, although I imagine that being confined to a small Brooklyn apartment for days on end might result in the same kind of mind-altering qualities that a life in South Dakota would.

I am not entirely sure I am ready to buy into the entire aesthetic, here, of Akron/Family, and knowing that there were three albums' worth of material ready to release is a little frightening, in a way. But I can see this being a record that both Thurston Moore and Steve Earle could like, I could see them on a bill with, say, Magnolia Electric Co., but I could also see them with something loud and rocking. I am not much for psychedelia, however, I just have not done that many drugs or gone that insane, yet, and there is just a little bit of it here. Just a little.

Michael Gira (x-Swans), who signed Akron/Family to his Young God Records imprint, compares them to "an eerie and twisted version of the Band" and I hate him because he is right, Akron/Family is indeed very American music, that field recording feeling comes through, that outsider quality comes through (although the Band were/are the quintessential American band, or at least are supposed to be. I tend to give that title to the MC5 or the Stooges, but then again I am talking loud raw and primitive).

But this is the kind of thing where I scratch my head and wonder where all these people who bemoan "there is no good music any more" get off saying it. This isn't trendy Williamsburg hipster crap that's going to be so flavor of the month in fifteen minutes, there is art and musicianship and actual songcraft at work here, a sense of timelessness pervades the entire album. Maybe three albums isn't such a scary idea after all.

Now, I do not know that I am down with the cult-like trappings of the long beards and alternate culture concepts (all of that smacks too much of, say, Unibomber), and it puzzles me that one would come to Brooklyn to do that instead of, say, Idaho, and all of that noise seems perhaps just the teensiest bit pretentious. But I still dig these songs, and the music, and the compositions, and am willing to overlook everything else as a result. This is a record that holds up upon repeated listens, with incredibly lush layers and arrangements on some (and while I salute alternate instrumentation, I didn't need to know that the drumming in "Rainforest" is all four members of the band simultaneously beating on their chests. Sometimes, a little mystery is a good thing), while others are kept deliberately minimal.

The eight-minute "Italy" is a sonic journey, while "I'll Be On The Water" (another standout) is more sparse, stripped-down, vocals to the forefront, simple and folky, evergreen. There's sound effect compositions that wouldn't be out of place on a Brian Eno album, and then some other songs with an aching quality that remind me of Elliot Smith ("Shoes" as an example). Every song is different, there are too many influences to count and they are all scrambled up, torn apart, and then put together again in the most unexpected ways. Akron/Family isn't so much alt.country as its own country.

A final note: Akron/Family will be backing Michael Gira on his forthcoming tour supporting his Angels of Light release (and also opening for him as well). You can find out more about Akron/Family at the Young God Records web site.
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