Akron/Family & Angels of Light | Review

Houston Chronicle | Andrew Dansby

The first eight minutes of this album are a neck-twisting contrast to Akron/Family's self-titled debut

Jan. 5, 2006, 4:16PM

A fidgety band eager to play with identity
Angels of Light with Akron/Family
Akron/Family & Angels of Light

Like a nightmarish version of the Beach Boys, pastoral art rock troupe Akron/Family throws together a haunting, chanting harmony vocal (dressed with just a hint of piano), to open its split album Awake with post-punk icon Michael Gira's Angels of Light. The vocals remain chantlike, but the mood swiftly takes a left turn with some monstrous feedback on Moment, a scary singalong that transforms into an engaging drone before the guitars make a semifamiliar racket.

The first eight minutes of this album are a neck-twisting contrast to Akron/Family's self-titled debut (released last summer), but as whiplash goes, it feels good to find a fidgety band eager to play with identity.  For a cheap reference point, think of the group as My Morning Jacket's fuzzy avant-garde cousin from upstate New York.

The album's tone changes on the final five songs. These are new recordings by Angels of Light, the stationary name for the rotating collective of musicians led by Gira. Backed by Akron/Family (they've been his Angels for the past year), Gira shows off the group's range with opener I Pity the Poor Immigrant, a Dylan cover and a gloomy country song at its heart. The Provider is a little stranger and more meditative, with an unsettling resonant guitar understating Gira's vocal melody.

An enjoyable bonus is Mother/Father, a song recorded (very differently) by Gira's previous band, the Swans, more than a decade ago. Here it sounds like a drum circle, the vocals chanted and droning.

The Swans was an industrial monster, a scary band with a scary sound that probably reached the maximum number of people that could have had even a passing interest in its metallic music. Gira hasn't mellowed so much as he's diversified. The results might seem a little cuddlier on the outside, which makes Angels of Light a great opportunity to get to know his stuff, claws and all.