Akron/Family | Review

Chicago Reader | Bill Meyer

Critics Choice...AKRON/FAMILY


Akron/Family exercised its eclecticism like a group of talented but green rookies on its self-titled debut, released last year on Michael Gira's Young God Records. It was cool to hear them hop from mellow folk picking to squelchy vocal collage to spacey stadium rock on "Suchness," or flip from flute-led psychedelia to acoustic balladry to a lumbering "Carry That Weight" finale on "Lumen." But the album wasn't particularly cohesive; if the Brooklyn quartet had a reason for doing all that beyond the fact that they could, I wasn't hearing it. Heavy touring since then, both on their own and as Gira's backing band, has sharpened their command of dynamics and clarified their intentions. Last fall at the Empty Bottle's Adventures in Modern Music festival they converted the (by no means partisan) crowd by sending it on a vertiginous but perfectly controlled ride. The show opened with a one-two-three punch: harmony-frosted, McCartney-esque folk pop, Sonny Sharrock-like electric noise, and stomping boogie rock topped with massed vocals that sounded like the chanting of blissed-out soccer hooligans. The band then shifted into what turned out to be a meditation on the elusiveness of transcendence; the climactic "Raising the Sparks" moved fluidly from Allman Brothers-like dueling guitars to churning, Beefhearty rhythms to an a cappella gospel freak-out. The individual parts were impressive, but the cumulative effect was what made the show so exciting. Their recent album with Gira, Akron/Family & Angels of Light, reproduces much of that set but doesn't quite capture its spirit; this is one band you really have to see live.