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Mi and L'au Akron/Family & Angels of Light | Review

The Phoenix Swarthmore College | Joe Kille

Word in Your Belly bafflingly beautiful

November 10, 2005 Mi and L'au Akron/Family & Angels of Light By far the best track on Mi and L'au's self-titled debut is called "A Word In Your Belly." Throughout the song L'au sings to a lush orchestral background and single repeating xylophone strike. Thing is, the refrain is not the title of the song but instead "there's a world in your belly." What does it mean? I don't know. I mean, I have an idea, but nothing too certain. I'll get back to you. Point is, it;s beautiful, not to mention a little confusing. The whole album is like that. Mi and L'au recorded and co-produced the majority of each track in a cabin in Finland. The album's production is intimate, acoustic, and simple. The mystery of the music though, speaks to a very specific yet undefined visual. L'au's work in film soundtracks before this album assuredly contributed to this. The whole album, in fact, feels like a soundtrack. The lyrics only ever hint at protagonist and situation. That doesn't mean that the music is un-enjoyable: quite the contrary. It leaves you searching for something else, hungry for some food you've never had and are not sure exists. Toys and simple folk instruments are not groundbreaking additions to such records as are appearing these days, but Mi and L'au give them more room to play than any other artists I've heard recently. When the mandolin plunks on the first track "They Marry" or the unidentifiable bowed instrument (guitar with a cello bow/Russian nail fiddle/what?) calls in the background of "Christmas Soul", you can almost feel the room in which they were recorded. Comparisons between this album and the more baroque and arranged Nico albums have been made. It's a reasonable likening, but where Nico seemed to be singing in a Medieval cathedral on "Marble Index", Mi and L'au's voices and instruments are definitely coming from behind the closed door of small room, somewhere deep in the woods. In a different part of the same woods where Mi and L'au keep their cabin comes Akron/Family and their new album, which was made under the guidance and with the talent of Michael Gira (Angels of Light). The Akron/Family themselves exist as some kind of cross between late period, feuding Beatles and smaller bits of The Band, John Cage and Sonic Youth. It'd be difficult to say that their sound was completely their own, as they draw from so many very distinct influences. What is safe to say is that they are the only ones out there doing it today. "Awake", the first track on the album, could have come as one of the medley of songs that ends Abbey Road, and is immediately followed by the most extreme of departures. "Moment", which clocks in as almost twice as long, is harsh and minimalistic. This interplay, between pop and folk, between American and more experimental music, leads the album into its second half, where the Akron/Family acts as Gira's backing band. The final folk ditties that end the album are neither calculated nor too loose. They all come across as interesting arrangements of songs off of Harry Smith's Folk Anthology, and give the album's closing a relaxed, inevitable feel. It's only on the last track, "Come For My Woman", that the sound of the album's beginning returns, bringing the listener full circle. It's easy to play the "Who does this sound like?" game with the Akron/Family ("Raising The Sparks" could so easily be the Velvet Underground it's not even funny). What they've come to be is a mix tape of a band, melding diverse influences within one album, or even one song. Again, the sound is nothing new, but instead the music that's been playing in your head all your life.
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