akron/family | by Darren Susin

a spectacular collection of songs

Stumbling out beneath the shades of instruments most people overlook, Akron/Family’s self-titled album is a tiny fragment of genius. Hinting at the droning slowness of Spokane, but carrying on the tradition of burps and beats a la Joan of Arc, Akron/Family crashes the gates of the first album release with a spectacular collection of songs. ‘Before and Again’ opens with simple humming, as if setting the tone for the rest of the album. In a sense, it’s somewhat of a warning, as if to say, hey suckas – if you’re not into this, then carry on. For those who stay, the rewards are endless. From the simple hums come computerized beats reminiscent of grocery stores machines combined with one long held synth beat. A deep toned accordion joins the folds, collapsing all sense of time. The computer and accordion are thus one and it’s the Akron/Family who realize the potential of such a combination. ‘Italy’ is an 8-minute epic that tests the patience of even the most devoted Ween listener. Taking more than its time to get to the triumphant build up that consists of slamming instruments in between chants of ‘I’m waiting’, ‘Italy’ also showcases the vocals (back-up and lead) in the band. ‘Running, Returning’ is a Radiohead inspired banjo ditty that incorporates what sounds like a jaw harp. The song spirals into typical Thom Yorke territory, before dropping off into a banjo solo that connects back into a rolling bass line. ‘Lumen’ is interrupted part way through with a children’s drum roll, as if the drums were just introduced to the player; yet, that’s what makes it so good. ‘Sorrowboy’ employs the space age, icy-sounding synth tones and layers them behind some vocals. Further on in the song, a hint of a drum beat slides in before fading out again. The song practically floats away into ‘Shoes’, which is another clackety-driven rag piece, somehow taking hold in the listeners mind as something special. At one point, all instruments, save a lonely kick drum, are stopped while the entire band sings in unison “and you laugh so hard / it hurts your sides in pain.” Lyrically, these songs should be torn apart. Lines like ‘I am not my thoughts’ and ‘How do I know I’m alive’ are fodder for reviews that rip albums apart, but with the minimalist instrumentation, Janssen’s great voice, and the addition of all the little extra sounds, the lyrics come off as sincere and, in this case, can be overlooked. Akron/Family thankfully lacks the over-instrumentation that kills so many albums; instead, they prefer to blend instruments of the past with devices of the future. Incorporating delicate acoustic guitar, computerized beats, accordions, and glockenspeils, they’ve managed to create a soundscape for that delicate moment when the limits of the city touch themselves down onto the tilled earth of farmers. Surrounded by Radio Shack synths and Casiomate percussion, Akron/Family no doubt scours each and every thrift store for the long discarded children’s instruments that people foolishly throw out. This album comes to us from the same cats who gave us Devendra Banhart and if you’re digging his freak-folk stylings, then Akron/Family is on your shopping list, guaranteed.