Akron/Family & Angels of Light | Review
Dylan's "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" which is a beautiful song and given full justice
December 12/ 2005
A curious beast this Alt-Country animal. Where does the Alt bit start? Why isn't it just Alternative music? Why not, in fact, just Rock music? I'm not sure I want get into all that here, but it becomes an interesting discussion when listening to this split album by Akron/Family and Angels of Light (who is Michael Gira, the label boss of Young God Records).
Over these twelve tracks you can almost hear the progression of rock music from humble country music into modern alternative music... just in reverse! The open salvo of tracks is all Akron/Family. These verge from an acoustic tinged country ballad of "We All Will" to a full out 70's rock-stomp on "Raising the Sparks". They seem a band that has listened to just about every rock record ever released. Their half of the record manages to make a rather coherent stab at distilling all their influences into just seven songs. If we're looking for modern recent equivalents, "Future Myth" wouldn't sound out of place on the Arcade Fire's album Funeral.
It's an exhilarating listen which can seem a little daunting at first, but this is a record that reveals itself after repeated plays. It's a record of layers and as you become more immersed in it, the more pleasure it derives and it opens up to you and this is just the Akron/Family contribution!
Things calm down a little for the Angel of Light's section. Here Michael Gira's Johnny Cash style voice is backed by the Akron/Family as his band. It's a slightly more traditional affair beginning with a cover of Dylan's "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" which is a beautiful song and given full justice. It's hard for this to segue into the more straightforward "Country" sound and not to grate. It doesn't, but it's a less bewildering listen and it's beauty more immediate. The only time it echoes the Akron/Family half is on the closing track "Come for my Woman" which sounds like an ancient Inca war dance full of chanting and angular guitars, but this is more the exception on this half of the record.
In the end though, it's the fact that the approach to this record is so different that counts against it. After you have finished the Akron/Family split, you instantly want to hear more but you get a section of songs more straightforward. Perhaps this "Compare & Contrast" way of splitting the album is the idea, but I'd prefer to have had the Angel of Light section first segueing into the Akron/Family. It would also work nicely as a comment on the musical development of Americana acts in general.
As a sampler of both artists it's a good starting point and I'm certainly intrigued as to what the separate artists are capable of by themselves.