Akron/Family | Review | Jim Siegel

they effortlessly combine threads of traditional and modern music into a new whole

March 20, 2005 Proficiency at editing is just as prominent on the list of this quartet's skills as is their songwriting ability. Rather than presenting results along the way since recording commenced in 2002, Akron/Family have waited and produced a work that lends the project the air of appearing fully formed from out of nowhere. Although rooted in traditional songwriting, the album has many nuances that elevate it above the recent deluge of "new folk/americana." "I'll Be On The Water" appears at first to be a simple, lovely ditty sung by one man with an acoustic guitar to his significant other. As the song progresses it reveals layers of field recordings and subtle instrumental accompaniment which place it in a landscape that enhances the sentiment of the lyric. The first verse of "Suchness" sounds like a dusty recording of someone singing on his front porch. Alien percussion, vocal harmonies, swirling electronics and, ultimately, a full electric band, pop up from underneath the floorboards at the 3 minute song's halfway point to take it into a realm that is at once surprising and natural. Akron/Family have a knack throughout the set for smoothly transforming songs from one mood to a wholly other without disrupting the flow. "Lumen" begins as a sparse dialogue between vocals and a melody led by bells and violin. It suddenly switches to build toward a climax of epic proportions by employing military drums and persistent guitar picking, achieving a sense of propulsion. This same sense of forward motion runs through "Running, Returning," during which the repeated, wordless chant which accents the song's persistent rhythm seals the deal that this bunch is an appropriate backing band for Michael Gira on his current Angels of Light tour. The group's mastery of a wide range of instruments lends this set a full sound. These muti-instrumentalists use guitars, banjos, piano, organ, melodica, various percussion and electronics to give a true sense of the outcome being more important than the means. By leaving themselves open to use any instrument or compositional idea that fits the moment, they effortlessly combine threads of traditional and modern music into a new whole. Some of the melodies, particularly on "Suchness" and "Afford," sound as if they are ancient song forms that have been stumbled upon by Akron/Family. "Afford," for example is introduced as a gorgeous and forlorn song. At the mid point, it descends into 30 seconds of eerie ambience where it seamlessly fuses traditional song structure with modern minimalism. This midsection also allows for reflection upon the song's only lyric, the repeated line "The power I afford you is the one I wish I had over you." By enhancing their songs with so many different subtleties, Akron/Family has set a course on a path that could convincingly fork in several different directions.