Angels of Light | Review | Dave Heaton

music for the brain and the body

Any Devendra Banhart fan can tell you that M. Gira has an ear for young talent, and in Akron/Family he's come across a mighty force. Their self-titled debut album and the Angels of Light album where they backed up Gira (The Angels of Light Sing 'Other People') were excellent demonstrations of both the uniqueness of their style and their astounding skills at taking any instrument in seemingly any direction. Yet as strong as both those albums were, touring together seems to have honed their collaboration even further, as the Akron/Family & Angels of Light album packs an even greater punch. With the balance of the album's songwriting tilting towards Akron/Family, right from the start they're again establishing their role as crazed seers, as mystical philosophers who speak through wild, and wildly varied music. Opening track "Awake" is slow and strange, evoking dreams in a way that might evoke the word "psychedelic"...that is, if they didn't sound so goddamn awake, so present. This isn't music to 'drop out' and disappear to; it's music that grabs you by the seat of your pants and blows your mind. That's clear the whole album through, made explicit as the second track "Moment" begins with a loud freak-out jam. Akron/Family's songs are 'trippy' - they make music sound unreal - yet they evade the 'hippie' nametag by being so forceful and in control. "We All Will" certainly evokes The Band or the Grateful Dead, but that's not all it does. "Future Myth" might open in a daze, with bongos and a hazy melody, but soon enough they're throwing very specific, details at your brain, waking it up, plus building up energy and singing together like a crazed choir. They'll shift into deep blues near a song's end ("Dylan Pt. 2") or behave like a mad Allman Brothers Band crossed with some kind of even madder circus ("Raising the Sparks"). And if Akron/Family doesn't turn M. Gira's songs into the same sort of ecstatic fits, they do seem to inspire some kind of extra focus or state of calm. "Oceanside" is an oddly peaceful Angels of Light song, a minimalist, naturalist love letter of sorts. And the cover of Bob Dylan's "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" is remarkably driven and clearly stated. They even help him take a dark, strange old Swans song, "Mother/Father", and make it sound jubillent, like a party. Complicated times call for complicated music, and Akron/Family & Angels of Light is complicated in all the right ways – full of surprises, of unique sounds and juxtapositions. It's music for the brain and the body, full with ideas but also fueled by a restless but perfectly focused creativity.