THE ONION | by Andy Battaglia

Akron/Family (Buy It!)

Nobody involved in the so-called "freak folk" movement seems particularly jazzed about their place under an ever-expanding umbrella, but the same context derided by skeptics as contrived and confining helps prop up albums that might fall away on their own. It's hard to know Akron/Family's feelings about peers busy picking guitars and chanting on cue, but the band's self-titled debut exemplifies all that the freak-folk tag has come to imply: wandering songs that avoid the simple steps they shadow, expansive sonics that sound organic even when they're not, and communal cues evolving, by happenstance or by design, from a sort of willed isolation. The Brooklyn-based Akron/Family found an early champion in Michael Gira, the former Swans/current Angels Of Light leader whose Young God label first introduced freak-folk flag-waver Devendra Banhart. The group shares allegiances with other scene totems like Animal Collective, Six Organs Of Admittance, and Vetiver, but the musical womb it drifts in obscures influences that are otherwise clear from the outside. "Before And Again" opens Akron/Family's self-titled debut with frail vocals, gentle guitar, and momentous strings, all understated but ready to combust with a simple shift of wind. By the second song, "Suchness," Akron/Family is singing about the Hegelian notion of a "thing-in-itself" while weathering raw, quiet blasts from a folk furnace. Akron/Family songs don't begin and end so much as hang out for however long they're playing; the eight-minute "Italy" takes several blippy breathers from its simple country structure, culminating in a chanted coda that sounds like something from a monastic ritual. Songs like "Sorrow Boy" and "Lumen" meander through comparatively direct Mercury Rev and Radiohead moods, but even the most straightforward songs sound private and at least a little unhinged. The highlight is "Running, Returning," in which a rhythm arises from chest-beaten chants, and singer Ryan Vanderhoof sends his shimmering voice skyward. It sounds like the work of a band many freak-folk acts strive to become.