Angels of Light & Akron/Family | Review | Jennifer Kelly

with Gira's deep, echoing voice underlined by steel guitar and gospel harmonies.

11/14/2005 Angels of Light & Akron/Family Akron/Family & Angels of Light Young God Last spring, Michael Gira, now of Angels of Light, took Akron/Family on tour as his backing band, much in the same way that he took on Devendra Banhart a couple of years ago. By all accounts, the shows were transcendent experiences, the sort of events where diverse talents and worldviews meld into something wholly new. Akron/Family's exuberance dragged Gira out of his dark, Cash-referencing gloom; Gira's gravitas grounded and gave depth to Akron's dizzying harmonies. On their return, both bands were so enamored of the whole experience that they decided to record a "live" album together. The result is here, recorded and mixed in nine eight-hour days, with few overdubs. It is completely different from either Akron/Family's or Angels of Light's work from earlier this year, and in Akron's case, represents a startling pace of artistic development. The quiet, electronically experimental textures of the band's self-titled debut have blossomed into wildly joyous celebrations and lightning quick style shifts. The disc opens with Akron/Family's seven songs, starting with the gently acoustic "Awake". Here, thoughtful guitar patterns are punctuated with Miles Seaton's subtle bass slides and washed over by high vocal harmonies in a dreamy, drifty, euphoric song. It is short and lovely, and ends with the whispered word "Awaken". This is like your mother coming in to brush your forehead 30 seconds before the alarm goes off, because the next track, "Moment", starts in a frenzy. For almost a minute of improvised chaos, drum fills crash off of guitar feedback until the track resolves, unexpectedly, in a locked-stepped chorus. Skirmishes continue, with discord winning one moment, harmony the next, vibrant Yes-like guitars slashing forward, and buoyant wordless singing in reply. It's not so much confusing as kaleidoscopic, and Akron seems to acknowledge the pace of change, not just here but in life in general, with these closing words: "This moment is over, the idea that you / are the same when it started as when it was through / is the reason that old friends have problems with the new thoughts and new clothes that you bought for them to see you in." Of the Akron/Family songs, "We All Will" and "Oceanside" seem most of a piece with their earlier work: they're built on undulating acoustic guitar lines, those wonderful bass slides and occasional bursts of joy. "Future Myth", the longest and furthest-reaching of their tracks, is a hallucinatory melange of echoing prog curlicues and block-lettered unison-voiced choruses. It's larger and more ambitious than most songs, with lyrics about finding enlightenment starting at the moon and six billion flowers. However, the band knows when to pull back, ultimately equating all these grand metaphors with "finding scissors right in front of you." The final and best Akron/Family song starts with twisted seventies guitars-- think Television or the Allman Brothers -- then builds a boxy rhythmic riff and traps folk-centric lyrics. It's a wonderful cut, like Oneida in ISB-mode, but with spiralling, multilayered vocals. This elaborate system breaks down, late in the song, into shouting, knee-slapping mayhem, as band members sing, yell and howl "Raise the Sparks" in syncopation. That would be enough, right there, but there are five Angels of Light songs to go, and here, too, the new songs seem to expand and improve significantly upon earlier work. "I Pity the Poor Immigrant", a Dylan cover to complement Akron's "Dylan Part 2", is perhaps the most straightforward and countrified, with Gira's deep, echoing voice underlined by steel guitar and gospel harmonies. Gira and Akron use the same harmonized vocal patterns to produce wildly different results. For instance, in "The Provider", mouth harps echo off bell-like percussion, as Gira sings disturbingly about blond-haired babies, car chairs and lotion. There's an air of menace that's amplified by the insistent offbeats and swarm-buzzing guitars, much in the same way that the suburban streets in Blue Velvet vibrated with suppressed violence. It ends with a cathartic chorus, which is as celebratory as Akron's "Raise the Sparks", but in a darker, wilder, less safe way. Similarly, there's a communal energy to the drumbeats and singings in "Mother/Father", but it's focused on dangerous subjects like killer mothers and the intersection of violence and love. This split shows one young band changing almost as quickly as technology can track its progress, and another more established act continuing to evolve as well. Gira has transformed before, of course, from death-rock Swans to operatically intense Angels and on to more stripped down, acoustic Angels, so it's not so startling, but his work here is looser, surer and more all-enveloping than on the tightly restricted Sings Other People. The sweeping vocal harmonies that accompany "One For Hope" are the key that lets him out of his box, moving him from finely drawn observations of people to an approximation of life itself. You get the sense that the two bands are good for each other, and for each other's music. This is not a one-off or an extra, but an essential piece of both groups' discography.