Akron/Family & Angels of Light | Review

The Weekly Buzz | Dan Mcdonald

This is a record of finding a middle ground of mixing old sounds with new sensibilities.

Champagne/Urbana Illinois

Apparently, Akron/Family and Angels of Light have heard Abbey Road, Blonde on Blonde, and probably some Creedence Clearwater Revival, Modest Mouse, and Animal Collective. However, unlike Akron/Family and Angels of Light's contemporaries, few bands channel the spirit of rock 'n' roll in such a refreshingly melodramatic fashion.

Akron/Family and Angels of Light released Akron/Family & Angels of Light, a pseudo-split between the two bands released by Young God Records. The first seven tracks are Akron/Family's material and the final five belong to Angels of Light, under which name former Swans front man Michael Gira plays.  Gira owns Young God Records and uses Akron/Family as his band for this album. The fun of Light is that the two distinct styles distinguish themselves from the man (or men) singing in front to the drums in back as the record digresses in this folksy concoction.

Akron/Family has a "freak folk" sound, as my friend called it, which blends '60s rock with older country and folk sensibilities. They borrow much of the opening of Light from the Beatles' "Because." Bits of "Sun King" shine through later on "Dylan, Pt. II," and Dylan's unmistakable low-fi sound - the tinny snares and tambourines used in "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" - have a hand in "We all Will." Gira later covers "I Pity the Poor Immigrant," as well.

Much of Akron/Family's parts gradually separate from this un-folk wall of sound they create; whatever does not gradually emerge appears out of left field. "Future Myth" brings to mind what music might sound like years from now. A battle between electronic signals and fading instruments dominate late in the song, only to be cut off and conquered by a beat box and synthesizer. The unexpected change ruins the end of "Future Myth"; even though the instruments are thematically appropriate, the song should end 26 seconds earlier. But this is one of the only weak spots found in the first seven tracks.  "Moment" could be a whole album on its own. Feedback from the guitars
and drums should be the sounds that end an album rather than help kick it  off.
But, "Moment" is an anthem and manifest announcing Akron/Family's arrival.

The song feels as if it could blow up at any moment, and then all of sudden, out of the shouting choruses comes a ditty that's absurdly catchy. "Moment" works in movements, stringing together sounds that theoretically should be nowhere near each other in a five-minute pop tune, but Akron/Family makes these sounds work. Dueling guitars and the bubble gum "ba-ba"s make the end of "Moment" one of the best pop songs in a while.

Light takes a heavier country/folk turn on Gira's half. All his songs are haunting -Akron/Family's accompaniment work in building suspense on closing track "Come for my Woman" is unsettlingly superb. "Woman" starts off sounding like Gira lifted it from Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 2 soundtrack, but in a switch from one movement to another - this album is all about taking long songs and turning them into three-piece opuses - the song ends the record like Hitchcock ends his movies: off-balance.

Surprise is the re-emerging theme of Light; the record starts in a way many would end it and ends in a way nobody expects. Closing out the record on such an unsettling note might leave some listeners hanging and unfulfilled - but this is a good thing. Not only do Akron/Family and Angels of Light break conventional rules of style and presentation, they break open the mold of what rock records can sound like today. This is a record of finding a middle ground of mixing old sounds with new sensibilities.

Light would be revolutionary if Abbey Road and Blonde on Blonde were never released - but, they were. Consequently, the record owes a lot of its goodness to those influences. The homage to the rock 'n' roll days of yore might be annoying if these guys were hacks - but, they're not. They co-opt sounds we know and reintroduce them to us in a new way. Audiences are left with a record that acts as a surprisingly good reminder of what folk and rock influences can do together, not unlike what Dylan did by introducing the Beatles to the harmonica and pot.