Akron/Family & Angels of Light | Review | Josh Honn

Gira and Akron/Family converge as Angels of Light to create hybrid Americana

December 20, 05

Akron/Family & Angels of Light
Young God

Anyone fortunate enough to have soaked in the debut self-titled album by the rural America turned NYC-based outfit Akron/Family was treated to one of the more inventive and gently experimental folk-based records of 2005. Of course, one doesn't want to get bogged down in further genre debates over "freak folk" or whatever one deems necessary to call such sounds the four members of Akron/Family produce so Michael Gira, founder and owner of Young God Records (and, yes, the same Michael Gira of Swans fame) simply calls Akron/Family a "rock" band. Hell, even he puts rock in quotations. I guess it is hard to be a genre these days.

Gira toured extensively as Angels of Light with Akron/Family as his backing band and opening act. After the tour both Gira and his latest Young God "find" (Devendra Banhart, who?) headed into the studio to record what is essentially a live split-CD titled Angels of Light & Akron/Family. The fact that this is a mildly overdubbed record is remarkable and a monster sized nod to how utterly incredible the live Akron/Family experience has been to all who have witnessed it. Building off of but also deconstructing the band's earlier "style," Akron/Family fade back and forth from the likes of Neil Young to Yes. Yes, I said Yes. Akron/Family's songs run together in a most prodigious prog-rock way as "Awake" subtly starts the record only to flow into "Moment" with its massively anarchistic and randomly loud transition into the powerfully screamed/sung harmonic vocals in which all the members take part.

"Moment" is probably one of the singular, well, moments in rock this year. Clocking in 5:21, the song is epic in the ground it covers in so little time, densely layered and a more humanistic and emotional roller coaster than your average prog-rock-esque track. Ending more silent but with seemingly as much force as it began, "Moment" alone solidifies this record as a brilliant affair of group harmony, experimental instrumentation, and accessibly complex composition. What follows are songs just as strong, as one listens to the maturation of Akron/Family and receives a glimpse into their live leanings (which they have always gravitated to more than the studio process of record making).

At times settling into more folk-based structures, what stands out most is the band's ability to harmonize together in a rougher yet beautiful, postmodern-Beach Boys kind of way. Word and sound take on a perfectly dialectical mix, from the sociopolitical lyrics of "We All Will" (Sad that imagination it fades / Because everyone must get paid / So that catalog stuff can get made) to the philosophical minded phrases of "Future Myth" (The future myth / Stories of the present when they're past / The future myth / Writing isn't reading till it's done / The Future Myth / Global views on things we've missed / Uh huh / Like finding scissors / Right in front of us), all intertwined with a mad professorial mix of sonic experimentation and simple folk (or "rock") foundations.

Akron/Family's time ends with the quasi-spiritual and gospel-dance driven "Raising The Sparks" which is sometimes performed live a cappella but on this record done in rounds of electric riffery and hand clapping lead chanting. Gira describes "Raising The Sparks" as "a song that never fails to get the audience whooping like suddenly zapped and enlightened idiots." Recorded, it is the perfect ending to what possibly may be one of the most unintentionally intellectual and amazingly fun group of songs to be put out in some time, if ever.

On the flip side‹er, I mean, the rest of the split-CD, are five songs (including a cover of Bob Dylan's "I Pity The Poor Immigrant") by Michael Gira under his latest guise, Angels of Light. Akron/Family play backing band and use higher vocal harmonies to complement Gira's monotone. The Angels of Lights tracks are much more laid back and steeped in an older Americana tradition, utilizing more standardized formulas of sound. Yet, with the boys of Akron/Family, whom Gira has become so enamored with, comes a more experimental output than previous Angels of Light recordings. Drone and noise are much more prevalent, and the "rock" is certainly let loose in songs like "The Provider." From the lush to the more "tribal" and Eastern aspects of some songs, Gira and Akron/Family converge as Angels of Light to create hybrid Americana (for the "global age") that could only come from a veteran mind like Gira's and the sprightly young influence of Akron/Family.

Like the wonderfully fragmented artwork that adorns the inside and outside of the album, Angels of Light & Akron/Family is a beautiful blend of just about any sonic form one can recall ever hearing. Yet genius, as genius, often incorporates and innovates in a natural way, not actually intentionally pushing the envelope or even being consciously inspired by concrete sounds of the past. Akron/Family and Angels of Light do just that. Like the aforementioned art pieces that juxtapose historically-based littered sculptures in a natural setting, the split-CD, because of its pure linear quality, is usually mismatched and misguided. Yet, Gira's
relationship with Akron/Family have created what truly is, in the end, a complete album of epic scale, musical significance and a highly prescient lesson in listening, participating and challenging.