Akron/Family | ReviewBlessed Are The Meek
These four lads from "rural America" have emerged from New York over the past several years like latter day schizophrenic folkies, long beards trailing behind their tongues, which remain firmly planted in cheeks. They insist that they are not a cult all the while positing the hermetic quasi-religious/sonic worldview/creed known as "AK" or sometimes "AK-AK". And none of them are related, by the way. But the Akron/Family band is somewhat of a twisted version of the old Americana family band (think The Carters, Rainer, and Mainers) that roamed the distant past with all manner of exotic instruments and glorious harmonies. For within Seth Olinsky (various instruments, vocals), Miles Seaton (various instruments, vocals), Dana Janssen (various instruments, vocals), and Ryan Vanderhoof (various instruments, vocals) there lies a genuinely authentic musical revolution. It is a revolution that has begat legions of head scratching hipsters trying to categorize the sonic landscapes these four lads create over a very solid folk foundation.
Their latest album (the 4th) Meek Warrior (cover left) on the quixotic Michael Gira's Young God Records is a prime example. Part traveling medicine show, part noise experiment, part unadulterated folk beauty and part inventive improvisation it has the sense of being combusted as opposed to recorded. In a recent email exchange I asked Seth how that sense of immediacy was captured.
Aside from the fact that they do record somewhat spontaneously, Seth humbly informed KyndMusic that "we had the good graces to record in Chicago with Griffin Rodriguez who we had met the prior fall in Italy when we played with one of his bands Need New Body. It turned out that he was in a band that we had all really been influenced by called Bablicon. We all had wanted to work with him and with our friend Hamid, who also lives in Chicago, and luckily it all happened."
"So I think," Seth continued "that Griffin had a lot to do with capturing the sound that you hear on the record, and then we had it mixed in New York with the engineer that usually masters our records, Doug Henderson who also mixed the last Antony records. He did a really amazing job of making a very transparent mix that allowed everything to be heard in a pretty natural way that I think really let Griffin¹s recording and our playing stand out."
He neglects to mention that they had naught but 2 hours of sleep after racing overnight from Iowa City to Chicago after playing a show, that they recorded part of it in Toronto with Broken Social Scene, another part of it in Brooklyn and a whole bunch of work in his own apartment. But all that aside, one of the elements that stand out on the album is their collaboration with jazz master drummer Hamid Drake. His skillful playing adds a depth to their rhythm, a constantly forming and reforming foundation that pulls the listener into the exploding soudscapes.
"Hamid is a legendary human being," Seth gushed. "It was a blessing to have the chance [to play with him] and we all learned so much by playing and working with him that it is impossible to even quantify by just the mere recording alone. Everyone should go and immerse themselves in all the wonderful music he has made."
They're fans of his you see.
And, admittedly, I'm fans of theirs. You see the music that Akron/Family creates does an amazing job of satisfying two opposing desires in me; to hear soulful, gentle and spiritual folk and to hear ear blasting, mind-fuck sound experimentation. Oh, and there's a third itch they scratch; improvisation. For Akron/Family doesn't write songs and perform them identically and repeatedly. Oh no. Instead what they do is create a basic framework and then go completely ape-shit on it. Much like the legendary gorilla in the Samsonite advert of the late 70's, they pick it up, kick it, throw it down the stairs, jump on it, sit on it and, one would imagine, occasionally throw their feces at it.
"Live," Seth repeated? "Well we always start every night be feeding our compositions into one of the new free online translators, through multiple languages and then back home, then locate ourselves on Google earth, mix in some Euclidian geometry with some fancier Buckminster fuller social contexts, influenced by conceptual art done by sculptor/installations artist who meet our requirements of a first name that starts with an even letter of the alphabet and a last name that starts with an odd letter, and then we light some incense, dance to Quincy Jones-era Michael Jackson, sing this land is your land while watching the Muppets, and do jumping jacks very seriously!"
He means it my friends. And so do I. These four fellas certainly mean, as they sing in "The Rider (Dolphin Song)", that there is "no destination, only direction" but I can assure they will take you there anyhow.