Akron/Family | David Greenwald

#10 top 50 albums of the year

10. Akron/Family
(Young God)
x Hear it on our December podcast

Sometimes peer pressure is a good thing. I was the last CMGer to listen to Akron/Family, and even with months of advance warning, I was in no way prepared for what I was about to hear.  I don't think any of us were, and that¹s what makes Akron/Family so impressive. Unlike Sufjan Stevens' Illinois, which was (fantastic, but also) at least reasonable predictable, Akron/Family comes straight from left-field; along with great songwriting and musicianship, no other album in recent memory contains as many unexpected twists and turns.

Akron/Family is like climbing a snowy mountain, all switchbacks and unsteady footing. Around each bend lies an unexplored new path: "Before And Again" mixes electronic beeps with more traditional folk instrumentation before exploding into percussion during the song's final minute, and "Suchness" begins like an old-time blues recording and shifts into Flaming Lips grandeur. Everything changes ­ recording fidelity, instruments, volume ­ but even when Akron/Family plays more straightforwardly, as on "Italy," the song is bolstered by the idiosyncrasy of a rocking chair creaking along with the music. "I'll Be On The Water" adds fuzzy field recordings to a beautiful ballad, leading up to the album's high-reaching peak. No discussion about of this album can ignore "Running, Returning":  easily the most rhythmically intense piece, the song spends two minutes pounding away before dissolving into delicate guitar picking and finally ascending into electric, Jeff Buckley territory.

The album's second half is a slow descent from "Running, Returning," but is no less engrossing or inventive. "Shoes" ends with a triumphant vocal chorus ­ "You float away / and find yourself laughing / into thin air," a sunny precursor to the sinister "Lumen," in which Ryan Vanderhoof wails "I'm falling further than I have ever been." "How Do I Know," like "I'll Be On The Water," is simplistic, beautiful folk, and the album concludes gorgeously with 'Untitled." As voices and strings shimmer together, Vanderhoof sings "There's never a next time." With Akron/Family's consistent reinvention, he's right. Whatever their releases in the future, we'll never hear an album quite like this again.