Akron/Family | Review | Thom Jurek

Akron/Family are up to what they do best here: shatter expectations

Meek Warrior
October '06

The most beautiful thing about the Akron/Family, this collective quartet of New  York musicians who record for Michael Gira's Young God label, is that they are virtually unclassifiable. Is it rock? Post-rock? Acid folk?  Freak folk? Free improvisation? Ultimately, who cares what it is, that it is is what matters most, and that is displayed prominently on this seven-cut "special album" (according to Gira). It's over 35 minutes, and includes the nine-plus-minute opus "Blessing Force" that moves from silence to rock-out mantra, to chant, to intricate polyrhythmic interplay, to free-form, improv, wig city back to guitar, bass, drums zone-out to skronk. All you can say for a brief second is "Oh yeah," before they enter with acoustic guitars, hand percussion and the paraphrased English translation of a Buddhist mantra on "Gone Beyond." 

There's melody and beauty and space and earth in sharp contrast to the fire of the previous cut. The vocals here are utterly beautiful and joyous and the spiritual vibe is set. Clocking in at only 3:22, it would have been interesting to hear what this might have been like at ten minutes. Alas. 

In any case, Akron/Family are up to what they do best here: shatter expectations, turn their own music inside out along with the heads of everybody listening. When they re-enter the known world it's only for a few minutes, as the brief folk song that is the title track blends fractured banjo (hmmm Magnolia Electric Co?), guitars and four-part harmony, as well as the thrum of an electric bass for a few seconds. All the listener can say is "bring it on: more, more, more." Those who dig the most acoustic side of the group will be more than blissed out by the rest of this set, which moves into droning, whole-tone psych-folk, sheer acoustic improvisation that is utterly melodic and into "No Space Is This Realm," which gradually moves into overtone music on trombone, harmonium, and  hand percussion . 

What is so ultimately rewarding about Akron/Family is that these tunes are crafted, slowly and purposefully. Their parts are grafted in without seams or abrupt juxtapositions. Even "The Rider (Dolphins)," another wild, multi-part jam that follows the dreamy "Lightning Bolt of Compassion," is done gently. Once given the opportunity, this band, no matter how seemingly chaotic their sounds are from the outside, will seduce as well as astonish. 

The final song, "Love and Space," offers real release and plenty of what the track promises; it's a sacred hymn and a mantra joined at the bellies and it sends the disc off into silence on a note of peace.  Akron/Family are a spiritual wonder as well as a musical one. They are a quartet who've listened to a lot of music, everything form the Incredible String Band, the chanting and prayer of Tibetan Monks and the music of Madagascar, to the Flaming Lips and yet what they've created on Meek Warrior is something wholly their own; it's filled with sophisticated yet welcoming changes in texture, dynamic, and form/genre that seem effortless, not forced or idiosyncratic for its own sake. Meek Warrior is their most realized
outing to date.