a mostly profound and surprisingly cinematic trip

First glance at the cover of Akron/Family's debut album (a paganesque satyr head that appears to be made of things resembling vegetables) and the accompanying press release (something about the four members locking themselves away and growing ZZ Top beards and probably smelling like aforementioned Satyr on cover), and you‚d be forgiven if you expected a weird, self indulgent ride. You‚d be wrong. There's weird to be had, but it's far from the nutty kind of obfuscations that hide a serious muse lack. Instead, it's a mostly profound and surprisingly cinematic trip. The album was released on M. Gira's Young Gods Records. Not sure what makes Gira a magnet for these sorts of things, but he's developing a great track record for exposing the creative underbelly of the American psyche, in particular the place where folk, Americana, and outer space meet. This release fits on the roster, comfortably nudged between the fractured savant stylings of Devendra Barnhart and Gira's own brand of acoustic warp, Angels of Light. The songs themselves stray between the experimental and the generally conventional. This makes sense in a way. The whole album was assembled from re-recordings from a bunch of tunes fashioned during those beard growing times. There's an echo of Radiohead here (the singer sounds a little like Yorke's American country cousin) and a smidgen of Bob Dylan there. Maybe my mind plays tricks, because I also hear a dash of Wilco in the mix. It's never a full-on aping and most certainly never derivative. In fact, the Akron boys manage to blend and ultimately transcend their influences with a combination of the truly inspired weirdness of their lyrical obsessions (do you like a little philosophy with your rural outlook?) and an assortment of well placed found sounds (great use of a creaking rocking chair). It all adds up to less a stable of songs and more of an aural film, albeit a very surrealistic film sifted through the mind of a slightly schizophrenic member of The Carter Family. Any negatives? None that I can see. I might be made a little soft by low expectations (did I mention the press release?), but this is a stunner. I've played it constantly on the drive to and from work. Each time I'm lulled away from traffic and into a near hermetically sealed world of creaks, melodies and mumbles. Repeated listens lead different places, and I like the ride there. The downside is shutting off the car and entering an inevitably less inspired real world. Makes me wonder who Gira has up his sleeve next...