Akron/Family & Angels of Light | Review | David Pence Jr

the group embodies a spirit of virtuosity and ambition that underpins the cascades of sound

Portland, Maine 

Tues., March 28 

This split CD on Michael Gira's Young Gods label features seven tracks by Brooklyn's Akron/Family ( I'm new to this band, and it's been interesting to listen to them in juxtaposition with the work of French Toast. Akron/Family brings together an abundance of ideas and enthusiasm, and the music has real sweep. They are interested in complexity and density, not spareness. Songs feel like compositions, with sections stitched together in surprising and sometimes sneaky ways. As opposed to the cave, this is music of the meadow, of open windows, of the gale lashing the ledge. You may be reminded of any number of bands from the '60s and '70s (a few lush vocal passages evoked for me the artful, pastoral splendor of the Pretty Things), as well as a few modern outfits with a similar fondness for the rear-view mirror. Akron/Family delights in having digested a feast of rock, and they put this knowledge to use with assurance. 

The band often starts from a simple or gentle place that serves as a platform for the shifts in tone, tempo, and style that follow. The curtain-raiser, "Awaken" begins with warm, quiet guitars that use a progression of minor and seventh chords to create an unhurried, electric-folk atmosphere. Then voices wash over center stage. Akron/Family uses vocals; sometimes a single voice, but more often two or more voices in harmony or unison; as a central instrument capable of sounding rich, svelte, sophisticated, untidy and funny, as needed. The lyrics are wry (sad that we have to grow old / catalogue stuff from the phone), self-referential (now we sit and share our songs / balls of light we pass along), or oblique (future myth, stories of the present when they're past), but almost always poetic. 

"Awaken" ends with a guitar note languishing in the slightly troubled air. Then the band unleashes a 50-second skronk attack that gives way to the first lurching verse of "Moment" in which a handful of the guys holler a simple melody from across the room. The effect of coil and release is tangible. After this section dissolves into a drone-y wave of voices singing "ahhhhh" yet another patch dawns this one with sinuous, tightly played guitar and bass lines that will bring a smile to those who recall Howe and Squire's symbiotic, propulsive riffs, or the twin guitars of the two Turners in Wishbone Ash. These bars are fastened to yet another passage, one that features a quickly strummed acoustic and thin, sweet figures played up the neck of an electric. 

As with some of the prog bands that Akron/Family conjures, the group embodies a spirit of virtuosity and ambition that underpins the cascades of sound. This urge reaches its acme in "Future Myth" which loads an array of thrills into 8 minutes and 11 seconds: shifting dynamics, lyricism, melancholy, sheen, and towering, anthemic riffs not to mention key and time changes. As you may have gathered, Akron/Family almost never stops asking to be taken seriously. From time to time in a song like "Oceanside" for example this sense of earnestness and profundity serves them less well. Unrelieved by stinging guitars, throaty keys, or drums, this woody meditation on innocence puzzled me, are they playing naive folk bliss for real, or did I miss the wink? The compilation's closer, "Raising the Sparks" presents the band in its freest form. The track is a raving-rural-mystical-stomp hybrid that allows the collective to open the throttle and shriek. It's a surprise ending to a collection of songs that contains numerous treats and tricks. 

Akron/Family performs on Tues., March 28, at Space Gallery, with Jackie-O Motherfucker and Sir Richard Bishop.