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Akron/Family

The Deli Magazine, NYC | by Lev Glebovich

Akron/Family are after something far more ambitious and interesting than mere blissed-out strumfests

June-July/05 "There is so much "stuff" in this music that the listener is left to suss out the essence for himself: where one is inclined to hear early Pink Floyd, someone else will find an avant- garde noise record leavened with melody. Some beats wouldn't be out of place on country radio. All in all, it's as un-New York as you can get." Akron/Family is the last band one would expect to get popular. Its name is incomprehensible; the guys are not even from Akron. The Family's four members, all prodigiously bearded and remarkably good-natured, would look most at home kicking a hacky sack around a grassy knoll of a Midwestern campus. No Sean McCabe artwork for these guys: far from consciously rejecting the trend-storms roiling the New York music community, Akron/Family create the impression of simply not being aware of them. On their dutifully updated MySpace page, the band claims that its music sounds like, direct quote, "gack bun jam a tree", and that's about right. Officially, the Family's sonic soup falls under the vague description of "psych-folk," which is only partially true: relaxed, sprawling and doubtlessly enhanced by pot on both the creative and the receiving end, the music certainly qualifies as psychedelic. There is also just enough strummed acoustic guitar and rootsy twang in it to justify the "folk" part. Yet Akron/Family are after something far more ambitious and interesting than mere blissed-out strumfests. Throughout their self-titled album (out on Michael Gira's Young God Records - more on that later), electronic currents weave under the surface and lo-fi field recordings fill every empty space with nature's own hiss and crackle. There is so much "stuff"in this music that the listener is left to suss out the essence for himself: where one is inclined to hear early Pink Floyd, someone else will find an avant-garde noise record leavened with melody. Some beats wouldn't be out of place on country radio. All in all, it's as un-New York as you can get. And yet Akron/Family have found a receptive home base here. They started out playing places like Pete's Candy Shop, a Williamsburg bar with a railway car for a live room and free sandwiches for the headliner; when they tried to play it earlier this year, they accidentally left dozens of fans outside. Typical of Akron/Family not to notice that they have outgrown the venue. The most shocking sign of acceptance, however, came from a figure that epitomizes NYC rock on par with Lou Reed, New York Dolls and Sonic Youth: Michael Gira of Swans fame. The ex-leader of the legendary proto-industrial band famed for its deafening, mournful dirges has made Akron/Family a part of his current band, the Angels of Light. No, scratch that: Akron/Family are the Angels of Light. It's them and no one else backing Gira on his latest album, The Angels of Light Sing 'Other People'." Improbable as it is, some of Akron's sunshine rubbed off on the notorious misanthrope Gira: "Other People" is the jangliest, prettiest, most accessible record of his career. In an interview with me, Mr. Gira said without the slightest hesitation: "Akron/Family are the best band I ever had worked with, and that includes Swans." The guys themselves are a little shocked to find that they have retroactively rewritten a huge swath of New York rock history without even trying; but, as with everything else, they take it in stride. Backstage before the recent sold-out show at North Six (as both Akron/Family and Angels of Light), the band ruminated happily about their unique situation: they are, fater all, the first group ever to release and promote its own album while serving as a backing band to a more famous act, also with a current album. The closest comparison, they point out, would be the Band -- but Rick Danko and Co. didn't get serious about their own music until after working with Dylan. Since Akron/Family functions as a total democracy (the beards, far from a gimmick, appear to serve as a deliberate equalizer), it's hard to tell exactly who's in charge when Gira's away; all four members take turns fielding interviewers. I got Seth and Miles. North Six was the last show in the American leg of an extensive Akron/Angels tour, and the band seemed equal parts tired and giddy. Next up for the guys is a split LP with, well, themselves -- the Angels of Light are heading into the studio with Gira as soon as the tour is over. Hasn't this lovefest gone as far as it will go? "The exchange of ideas, the creative tension are amazingly productive," says Miles, "of course our own stuff is different from Michael's, but I think it will all fit together in its own odd way." In the meantime, the tour goes on; later in the fall, it will take them to places like Russia. For a band used to playing off a particular room, sometimes improvising up to 90 per cent of its set, the experience of playing actual songs in actual order is a sobering one. (Miles: "We still leave in some space for for improvisation, just to keep things interesting, but now we know when it starts and when it ends). A question about on-the-road listening habits yields an unexpected laundry list of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, and also (more surprisingly) Parliament Funkadelic and (less so) Greatful Dead. The long hours at the wheel also made Seth and Miles rediscover the joys of Led Zeppelin's III and IV ("This is actually great music!" says Seth and mimes driving while flashing devil's horns), but don't expect the Page-Plant riffage to seep into Akron/Family's own work. As for the local scene, the band avoids it to the point of not being able to name any local favorites beyond their Young God labelmates ("You know, we don't really listen to any new music. I think there's just a point after which I stopped paying attention," confesses Miles). One suspects that this oblivious bliss is temporary. After all, like it or not, New York ha already trained its eyes on the quartet; sooner or later, they will have to squint back.
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