Angels of Light / Akron Family | Review | Alex Coon

Busy performers moonlight in two bands Akron/Family, Angels of Light creats smooth sounds with jaw-dropping melodies

Sounds Like: The Band wrasslin' with Mercury Rev 95/100 decibels Akron/Family is off to a rather busy start as a band. Thus far, the quartet has released its self-titled debut LP, served as session musicians for ex-Swan Michael Gira's Angels of Light album "Sing Other People," embarked on a globe-spanning tour playing two sets per night (the band opened each show as themselves, and then played behind Gira as his Angels of Light) and is now releasing its second album a scant eight months after the first. For a unit in its first year of existence, this is indeed an impressive feat. With the incredibly breakneck pacing of both parties involved with this album, one might understandably expect this collaborative full-length to be a half-cocked throwaway with a scope of appeal limited solely to Gira completists. Luckily, one would be wrong. The set of songs presented on this album easily rival anything in either outfit's oeuvre, which is certainly not a trivial task. Akron/Family is competing against its earlier eponymous effort, which easily outranks nearly everything I've heard in recent memory, and Gira has the legacy of Swans as well as his increasingly impressive body of work as Angels of Light to contend with. Both artists, especially the ungodly talented Akron/Family (who again serve as Gira's backers in Angels of Light in addition to providing its own material), are in overwhelmingly strong form here. Akron/Family begin the album with "Awake," a short, choral piece that leads into the cacophonous din of "Moment," which effortlessly mimics Lightning Bolt before settling into a stomping tune that wouldn't have sounded out of place at the Last Waltz. Also particularly noteworthy is the final Akron/Family number, "Raising the Sparks," whose yelping final section is the most joyously riotous affair since Mercury Rev's "Yerself is Steam." The most impressive aspect of this band is its linear approach to songwriting, which is progressive in the truest sense of the word. Never content to linger, the Akron/Family (much like Animal Collective) display pen jaw-dropping melodies, but discard them almost as soon as they emerge, making for an incredibly engaging listen. The group is also incredibly strong as the Angels of Light behind ringleader Gira, who contributes four originals and a cover of Bob Dylan's "I Pity the Poor Immigrant." Collaborating with the gifted Akron/Family has opened up a richly melodic aspect of Gira's songwriting, which now relies less on overblown devices such as bombastic string arrangements and backing choirs. The most impressive Angels of Light tune on the album is "The Provider," which deftly employs a simplistic circular structure to build toward an incredibly rockist climax. This is more essential listening from some of the most exciting figures in modern music, and one would do well to hear it.