Love Is Simple | Review

Dan Shvartsman |

Love Is Simple, and such are the words the band lives by

“Don’t be afraid, it’s only love.” So sing Akron/Family on their newest album, Love Is Simple, and such are the words the band lives by. Yet again they prove that they are fully unafraid in their music, unafraid to be wild or out of form on one end, or to be obvious and cringingly earnest on the other end. They’re hippies for the modern day, and they aren’t afraid to show it.

The range that ensues entails brilliant moments throughout the album. The standard A/F trick is to build initially energetic songs into triumphant explosions of joy and melody and screaming. “Ed is a Portal” emerges from a placid opening track with a couple vocal chants and a banjo riff. It travels through nonsensical lyrics and tributes to pot smoking to arrive at another vocal chant, a cappella, a climax of two parts, with a space in between to bake the song in violins, guitar parts, and a “It’s All Gonna Break”-like horn-build. A goofily glorious song on its own, the tune takes one last left turn into an odd coda of barbershop singing and futuristic beats.

Similar exposition takes place to rescue “I’ve Got Some Friends” from catchy but annoying song, taking it to a big finish, and again in slower, messier form back-to-back on “Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music For Moms,” and “There’s So Many Colors.” The latter works better, fitting its pieces like a song suite rather than one long builder. The penultimate track turns a similar trick, juxtaposing a horn-fueled Irish drinking song with a quiet, tentative but not timid choral reflection. The switches from one extreme to the next are unguarded and sudden, as is typical of A/F.

That song is also the album in miniature. We’ve covered most of the heady parts of Love Is Simple, but the bookends “Love, Love, Love” tracks as well as the stand-in title track, “Don’t Be Afraid (You’re Already Dead)” attest to the band’s ability to focus calm beauty for whole tracks. Sure, the sentiments professed therein are cheesy, but there are worse things than cheesy love.

And while A/F leave some songs on the album that could be cut in addition by subtraction method, they also find a medium between these extremes that is one of their most essential songs yet, if not one of their best, necessarily. “Phenomena” is a peaceful acoustic ditty, with just the title repeated over the guitar for the first half a minute. A/F kick it into a “Happiness is a Warm Gun” thwomp for an exciting 15 seconds, and then unleash Technicolor® guitar lines over a lyric of “Some might think this isn’t the right sound.” They rinse and repeat, as necessary, with just the slightest of lyrical twists and a guitar/organ combination that could have been on Electric Ladyland. They manage this in the nearly radio-ready length of just under four minutes.

So Love Is Simple, but the album is not quite. Yet it’s a classic A/F album with highs and lows and fun to be had for all. Check the cynicism, share the love, and don’t be afraid. They’re not.