Akron/Family | by Tom Ridge

strong and deeply fascinating

Compared to Michael Gira's other great discovery, Devendra Banhart, Akron/Family's music is less immediate, but possessed of a slow, seeping potency transmitted through carefully layered arrangements that bubble away under seemingly tranquil acoustic surfaces. Gira's Young God label has constructed a beguiling semi-mythology around this quartet of young musicians, now Brooklyn-based but originally transplanted from rural origins. Akron/Family is presented as pastoral spontaneity meets folk spirituality, a debut album dressed up in the arcane imagery of Albertus Seba's 18th century illustrations from The Cabinet of Natural Curiosities. But it is also a meticulously assembled world of sound, as much a product of contemporary studio montage techniques as of timeless melodies. This doesn't necessarily raise doubts about the group's sincerity, but it does suggest a lineage descended as much from, say, Four Tet as from The Band (whose members were themselves self-consciously drawn to myth-making). Another clue may be found in the typography, in the ambiguity of that slash dividing the band's name — they're not so much practicing the art of deception as nodding playfully at their own self-invention. The music confidently mixes crystalline acoustic melodies with slurries of percussion and noise samples, gradually peeling back the band's simple folk facade to reveal the textural sophistication of their compositions. Which is not to say these songs lack emotional impact. They connect in a roundabout way, loping in lazily drawn concentric circles, but their irresistible centripetal force draws you in until you're fully submerged. Musical touchstones include Tim Buckley at his most diffuse and oceanic (the intricate, keening sprawl of "Running, Returning") alongside Nick Drake at his most touchingly direct ("Afford," "I'll Be on the Water"), but these are sketchy evocations at best — the band's sound is firmly its own, peppered with multiple idiosyncrasies, detours and about-turns. Using field recordings to flesh out their acoustic vignettes and often wildly diversifying within the space of a single song, Akron/Family merge shifting, sometimes impressionistic arrangements with limpid lyricism. The result is an elusive — but strong and deeply fascinating — debut.