Angels of Light and Akron/Family | Review
there's an angry magic I wonder if the band themselves realize they've captured
AUGUST (this first part seems to refer to seeing Mi and L'au live in UK)
We stood in the church porch and smoked cigarettes through half of their set at the festival, while an acquaintance detailed his upcoming separation from his partner and children. Yeah, Mi and L'au. Very nice. Whatthefuckever. They were too beautiful to ever live lives like ours. Mi was blond and pale, lips trembling as if she could cry at any moment. Her hair lay all the way down her back, almost to the back of her stalk-like legs. Her partner, L'au, was dark and angular; a thousand pretty worries playing across his brow. They were too lovely ever to say the wrong words or raise a voice to hurt each other. They moved to a cabin in Finland, where they lived like skinny, elegant Moomins (????) with two guitars and a toy piano. They made music like cobwebs and icicles and fires. People liked it, because they'd always dreamed of such isolation and brooding happiness. I liked it too, but real life kept gnawing at my cuticles. And yet I still listened. It's too easy to squash whimsy and kick vulnerability, easy as popping bubble wrap.
"First they crash" goes the first song "and then they marry". Mi's exhalations are studied, even actressy, in their gentleness; and there is a warm, burry fuzz behind her voice - a kind of fluffy white noise that makes you want to fold your hands around her like she entreats you at the songs' conclusion. L'au's careful, chromatic accompaniment guides the song like some kind of textbook perfect lover, not a finger or a kiss out of place. Those of us who prefer the element of surprise may yawn and lie back, pleasured but not ecstatic - but you'd have to be one dedicated masochist not to feel a little stirred and smoothed by the control, skill and sensuality of Mi and L'au's self titled debut (Young God).
L'au's background in soundtracks might be what gives the music its elegant pacing: there's a kind of narrative logic to the arrangements, as on closing track "Study", where an intro of fragmented guitar, occasional harmonium and digital burble glides into a delicate orchestral sea. The songs themselves are slight, and lyrics about childhood, philosophy, bellies and Christmas display the kind of slightly cultish preciousness I'm coming to associate with Michael Gira's Young God signings; but to deny the music's wintry charms would be like shutting your eyes when it snows.
Outside the cabin, the boys are partying in the woods. Harmonies knit together, then rise like smoke. An older man adds a world-weary voice to the choir. I approach with caution; any woman who's been burnt by a hippie guy knows not to trust those lusty, stinky yowls of so-called freedom. She knows it's a slippery slope and you land at the bottom with a bedroom full of fake shriney stuff that doesn't really mean anything (cf. the Norse totem god thing on the album cover; no dress sense (they prefer you 'natural); and dumped for some girl with massive eyebrows who makes her own candles. Yeah, Akron/Family. Very nice. Whatthefuckever.
And yet still I listen, because Akron/Family and Angels of Light's new one - again, self-titled (Young God) - is, in places, a thing of joy. It's the indulgent joy of old record sleeves under your fingertips and old clothes on your back; but those joys are ones I make time for. The sincerity that vibrates through every strained vocal cord on whoop-and-holler knees up "Raise The Sparks" is too easy to puncture, just as chopping slugs in half with scissors is an overly bloodthirsty (if fun) way of getting them off your plants.
It's Day of The dead; I play spot-the-reference with rock ghosts: Popol Vuh; Captain Beefheart; Buffalo Springfield; Quicksilver Messenger Service; Grateful Dead; The Byrds; Caravan. What are you to do when Akron/Family's songs hitch-hike from style to style, with muscular prog riffing giving way to shimmery West Coast optimism acceding to Incredible String Band fol-de-rols?
As with Mi and Lau, structure saves the day, and almost overrides lyrics about moving to the ocean side ("Oceanside"). Unlike Mi and L'au, it's the songwriting that's fascinating: songs emerge tentatively and grow strong, like the anthemic "Future Myth" with its contrasting movements, stonking chorus and an outro The Beach Boys would be proud of.
When Michael Gira appears, events paradoxically take a darker turn. His voice stands proud, but the music loses its playfulness and the Summer Of Love darkens into an autumn of distrust and sore eyes from staring too long into the fire. There are hints of the tortured, yawping, ridiculous masculinity of Sunburned Hand Of The Man, but behind that there's an angry magic I wonder if the band themselves realize they've captured. The angels dance now like skeletons, loose and grinning; and to deny their pre-apocalyptic intent would be like pretending you're not scared when you're walking in the woods alone.