Love Is Simple | Review
Zachary Herrmann | Diamondback
"Have you noticed everyone around here is crazy?"During the opening seconds of the fourth song on Akron/Family's latest album, a voice interrupts the frantic picking and singing to pose the question, "Have you noticed everyone around here is crazy?"
Crazy definitely permeates throughout Love Is Simple, Akron/Family's second full album (third album overall if you count the mini-album, Meek Warrior). The range of sounds and ideas represents a true collective genius within the band - a genius which occasionally spins out of control - and while love may be simple, the Akron/Family's new album certainly is not.
The album lives and breathes in the sort of three-dimensional space few bands can manage to achieve in the age of digital recording. Though Akron/Family thrives mostly on its renowned stage reputation, there is just as much to praise in the group's towering studio presence.
Working with producer Andrew Weiss (Ween) for the first time, Akron/Family has delivered one of the year's most fascinating efforts. Love Is Simple probes the less-traveled fringes of stereo sound, seeking out sonic bliss somewhere across the great divide - a grand melding of organic and synthesized music in a tour de force of love-thy-neighbor-flavored communal rock.
The freak flags are pitched at full sail only two minutes deep in the album, with the first of four songs pushing the seven-and-a-half-minute barrier. "Ed Is A Portal" begins in the hippie campfire spirit, with tribal yells and primitive percussion beats, before evolving into a lush, pastoral-tinged bridge. The weirdness factor comes into play with "Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music For Moms," another lengthy track full of excessive wailing, chanting and heavy drum beats.
Even for the more adventurous listeners, Love Is Simple can prove a bit challenging in its first half. Akron/Family's greatest asset is also its greatest fault, as the band's unrelenting influx of ideas results in constantly shifting songs grounded in some other, less stable universe. "I've Got Some Friends" features some deliciously swirling melodies, but with the gears shifting so many times in a mere three minutes, each odd piece of the puzzle barely receives enough time to properly land.
But by the second half of the album, the strange surroundings settle in and Akron/Family moves ahead full-throttle. The epic "There's So Many Colors" kicks with all the ragged glory of Rust Never Sleeps-era Crazy Horse, but ends in a whisper more in tune with the acoustic reverence of Neil Young's solo outings.
Singing about rice and Jesus on "Phenomena," the Family gnashes its electric teeth, tearing through the opening plaintive chords with some unchecked tenacity. Though there is much to appreciate in all of Akron/Family's odd musical whims, the band really gets cooking when they play their rock 'n' roll loud and straightforward.
Most of all, Love Is Simple succeeds in its overall celebratory tone, reveling in its trial-and-error experimentation. There is nothing casual or shrugged-off about Akron/Family's music, yet with the help of clever production and mixing, the band manages to live in a gleeful spur-of-the-moment where a song can change in the blink of an eye.
The opening bars of "Of All The Things" explode with soaring guitars in an old tavern-style sing along. Yet just as quickly as the song bursts into life, the melody changes, and the haunting group vocals stand naked against the slight reverberation of two guitars. The level of craftsmanship and invention in each bizarre transition becomes something to marvel at, even if all of the abrupt breaks in action leave much of the album in a sort of sonic patchwork quilt.
This year has been a particularly blessed one in terms of new releases. But what makes Love Is Simple stand out is the artists' willingness to be so blatantly imperfect - everything goes and all are welcome. Simply put, Akron/Family has provided a wildly rewarding trip for those daring to come aboard.