Akron/Family | Review | Shane

The song is enough to make you break down and cry

Sept 05

Akron/Family (Young God, 2005)

 Michael Gira is a genius. Swans and Angels of Light will undoubtedly be remembered as great bands years from now. Playing music is not all Gira is good at though. Discovering talent is another of Gira's gifts and if he keeps up with his track record, it might even become more renowned than his songwriting abilities. You may know the name Devendra Banhart by chance. He only released two critically acclaimed albums last year and has single handedly revived a folk revolution. Yeah, Gira discovered him. A name you might not be so familiar with is Akron/Family, Gira's latest discovery. Akron/Family is four guys who convened in New York City in 2002 to make music together. They locked themselves in an apartment for years, honing their skills and writing an incredible number of songs. Enough to release a 3-CD set for their debut. After all was said and done though, only one CD was served as their debut and it is undoubtedly one of the best of the year.

'Before and Again' is the first song on the record and will start you off right away by sending shivers up and down your spine and giving you goose bumps. Ryan Vanderhoof's vocals are enough to get down to the essence of your soul and the backing of acoustic guitar, strings, well placed noises,and incredible backing vocals only add to the feeling of everything. While this song is a rather slow intimate song for the most part, the last thirty seconds or so sees a pick up in tempo, snares that are being turned on and off, noise, and various other things keeping rhythm.
The band has a knack of putting a small noise part right in the middle of a beautiful song and does so with absolute perfection. A perfect example of this is the second track 'Suchness' which starts off simple enough before finding itself meandering aimlessly before coming into the chorus which is very simple and incredibly pretty. 'Part of Corey' begins with a wall full of noise before it begins to collapse under the weight of itself into very ambient drones and sine waves. Before you know it, an acoustic guitar is being played over it all and the vocals come in. This is another example of well-placed noise backing very well played folk music.

There are also some absolute masterpieces on this record. The first one is 'Italy' which is an eight minute long song. Creaking rocking chairs are being used as instruments and to great effect backing very sparse electric guitar, which is then met up with the full band. The song features very small noise interludes, incredible vocal harmonies and a now trademark Akron/Family sing-a-long. This band knows how to have a sing-a-long. One that envelops you into the song and makes you belt out as if you were right there playing with the band. It all ends with spoon on glass number that keeps showing the bands genius to use everyday items as musical instruments.

'Running, Returning' is another masterpiece on this album and starts off with a full band singing in before Vanderhoof comes in with a powerful vocal line. I am not even sure of the instrumentation backing them, as I can only make out a banjo but it all sounds so calculated. The song changes focus several times with a banjo freak out in the middle of the song followed by a very childish and light hearted vocal line before completely changing focus again into a slow, melting part that has some amazing sexy falsetto that is comparable to 90 Day Men a bit.

'Shoes' is the best song on the album and probably the best song released this year. The song is very simple and brimming with absolute beauty that is indescribable. A simple banjo that follows the vocal melody, interludes that has a leading but not overpowering bass line until you are just completely taken back by everyone coming in to sing at once. The song is enough to make you break down and cry as they keep singing together until everything falls apart. The song also features my favorite lyrics on the whole disc.

'Lumen' follows it and is the last of the quartet of magnificent songs on the disc. This song has Vanderhoof singing in a manner that is similar to his voice in 'Running, Returning' with a rather high falsetto. The song is rather creepy in some parts and you feel tense as he sings over high-pitched strings. Guitars and glockenspiels add to the tenseness and he starts singing even higher until the full band comes gracefully in for the chorus and Vanderhoof croons over it all. The second verse brings back the uneasy feeling as the drums build up more and more. The second chorus bursts out and Vanderhoof's falsetto goes the highest it's probably ever gone. The lyrics to this song add to the uneasiness you feel as you listen to it. Lines such as 'Sometimes in the night / I feel your breathing / and I want to eat your light / You'd be inside me' just make you feel guilty listening to the song.

While most of the disc is very complicated and busy while sounding simple, there are some simple songs on the disc. 'Afford' almost has a Nick Drake or Iron and Wine feeling to it for the most part before nature sounds back it in the end. 'How Do I Know' is just an acoustic guitar and vocal song that works well as an interlude between songs.

Overall, this is something that absolutely cannot be skipped over. As a matter of fact, it's the best album to be released this year and is Gira's best discovery yet. Yes, it honestly blows Devendra Banhart right out of the water. Akron/Family has found a balance between being complicated while being simple that any band would kill to have. Months from now you'll find little things you never noticed before popping up. If any of the material they recorded while recording this disc is just as good, expect this to be a band that is in everyone's mouths for years.

9.8 / 10