Akron/Family | Review

New Haven Advocate | Ryan Kearney

We have come for your children

December 8/05 

All in the Family
Akron/Family is out to convert the masses. 

Akron/Family: We have come for your children.
Akron/Family likes to perform sitting down. You can stand all you want--you probably have no choice, unless you want your jeans sticking to the floor--but this inimitable foursome doesn't need to straddle guitars or hump the mic stand to punctuate their act. No, they do just fine seated in chairs.

Well, barely seated.

As I learned during a September show at Rudy's, Akron/Family play with such fervor as to be perpetually on the verge of falling off their seats. And if the audience was also seated, no doubt their asses would have been on the edge, too. The show was a dizzying blend of harmonization and hysterical chants; psychedelic and traditional folk; acid and Southern rock.

Akron/Family is a band that plays like they're possessed. I almost expected to see eyeballs rolling back in their heads, or for them to sing in tongues. But during quieter moments, sitting at eye-level with the audience, they exuded the intimacy of an impromptu, fireside music circle. Or a cult gathering.

As the hour-hand neared 1 a.m., the band worked up a raucous stomp that tested the seams of the tight space. But just as the crescendo neared its climax, the harsh lights flipped on: Time's up.

Still playing, the band squinted at the bar manager, as if to ask, "Are you serious?"

He was. Gig's over.

Akron/Family abruptly, but skillfully, ended the set. They looked at each other, clearly disappointed, and put down their instruments, like mountaineers turned back 100 feet from the summit.

"It's just kind of frustrating," says guitarist Seth Olinsky, 24, speaking from his Brooklyn neighborhood. "At that point it was supposed to finish and climax, and we couldn't do that."

Had you gone to Rudy's that night and were only familiar with Akron/Family's debut, you would have been surprised.

Akron/Family, released in March, is a smattering of folk-based experiments, many of them home-recorded. Songs often start out as delicate acoustic numbers, only to take on rudimentary electronic adornments and turn boisterous or discordant by the end.

But the band's m.o. is unusual instrumentation. "I think we're all intrigued by everyday sound, nontraditional sound," says Olinsky. Such as: crackling thunder. Crumpling paper. Creaking doors and chairs. Pencils tapping tabletops.

Band members even beat their chests like apes on one track. And yet it's never gimmicky.

Those songs were written while the band lived together in Brooklyn--four of them, plus another friend, in one loft. "It was a place with no rooms," says Olinsky. "It was hellish."

But it was productive, too. They sent out their recordings, without any luck. Then Olinsky saw Devendra Banhart play and, given the singer-songwriter's slightly similar style--labeled everything from "freak folk" to "neo-hippie"--Olinsky contacted Banhart's label, Young God Records.

Label founder Michael Gira, of Swans fame, liked what he heard. But he was busy with Banhart's exploding career. "I just physically didn't have the time or stamina to devote to them at that point," writes Gira via email.

"Once Devendra had moved on," he continues, "I went through the stack of demos etc. on my desk and was a bit shaken when I realized how much potential Akron had." He called them and arranged to catch a show. "Seeing them live sealed it," he writes.

In fact, Gira liked Akron/Family so much that in addition to releasing their debut, he asked them to be the backing band for his post-Swans project, Angels of Light. In October, they released a split album, Angels of Light & Akron/Family. Recorded live with a few overdubs, the album's first half features the material Akron/Family unveiled at Rudy's: Languid harmonies give way to hollerin', and what's harsh and screeching one moment is sunny the next. "Raising the Sparks," the highlight, recalls everything from Lynyrd Skynyrd to late-'60s Kinks to Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk. In concert, this is the song that converts the doubters.

Fortunately for New Haveners, there are ample opportunities to see the light. Akron/Family has also played Cafe Nine this year, and now the band is hitting BAR.

"We just keep playing," Olinsky says, "and for us, we don't really have a look or a lead man that's easy to recognize. So I think the best thing for us is to get in front of people and just play. It seems like that's the best way to get people excited about what we're doing."

So c'mon and join the family. We just just mixed a new bowl of Kool-Aid.