Akron/Family | review | Nick Hennies

a refreshingly refined and considered effort

Whenever a musical style really catches on with the public for the first time it always takes about six months for a huge crop of second generation imitators to spring up all over the country, turning a potentially valuable musical idea into a fad. The current “free folk” (for lack of a better term) movement is no different. So, it’s unfortunate that Akron/Family, a band that is musically and aesthetically independent from the genre, would release their debut amid a hazy cloud of bearded, barefoot singer-songwriters. Yes, there are many elements of Akron/Family’s music that could be construed as ‘free’ or ‘folk’, but the ingenuity present on this album places the focus firmly on the composition of songs rather than any extra-musical traits often associated with a genre as idiosyncratic as this one. Reportedly culled from endless home recorded demos, Akron/Family’s debut is a refreshingly refined and considered effort. No doubt the result of the band having lived together for a long period of time obsessively writing and recording music, this is an album full of gorgeous climaxes, unique arrangements, and a surprising number of unidentifiable sounds. They are true craftsman, ably utilizing a seemingly endless array of instruments and sound sources without a hint of excess or decadence. Even the presence of experimental improv duo nmperign (Bhob Rainey – soprano saxophone and Greg Kelley -trumpet), which on the surface seems like a somewhat tenuous inclusion, sounds completely natural and integrated into the music. The pacing and song structures are unusual, often proceeding in a linear, progressive fashion and keeping the listener engaged rather than simply repeating something we have already heard. This works to great effect, exemplified no better than in the outstanding “Running, Returning” where the form, tempo, and dynamic is constantly changing and going in unexpected directions. Not surprisingly, the most forgettable moments on the album stray the most from this formula with mostly flat sounding songs like “I’ll Be on the Water” and “Sorrow Boy”. At their best – with songs like “Running, Returning”, “Shoes”, and “Italy” – Akron/Family achieve the transcendence for which so many folk groups strive but rarely succeed. Though slightly overstaying their welcome with these twelve tracks, Akron/Family is certain to be a household name for years to come. -