Akron/Family | Review
www.pitchforkmedia.com | Stuart Berman
a faultless melding of complementary idealsSeptember 25, 2006
[Young God; 2006]
For all the contemporary rock bands who advertize their cult-like credentials (Polyphonic Spree, Danielson), Akron/Family come closest to forging a genuine communion between their church and your state. And they do it without even acting like a cult: no fancy white robes or matching uniforms to delineate between the pulpit and the pews, no religious rhetoric to impose their ideology. Heck, Akron/Family don't even need to stand up-- their seated performances giving new meaning to the phrase "rocking chair". Onstage, the Brooklyn quartet resembles a campfire folk circle where the players suddenly go up in flames, their sets marked by a series of light-switch flips between harmony and anarchy. But however peculiar the sight of four shirtless guys with mouths agape may be, the Akrons, like the best preachers, inspire their congregations to lose all sense of inhibition and surrender to the moment. It's just that instead of interpreting the bible, the Akrons simply do what we all do when trying to make sense of the unexplainable: scream real loud.
Clearly, strange powers are at work here, and, on album 2.5--following 2005's self-titled debut and this year's spectacular split-release with Angels of Light-- Akron/Family give praise to their mysterious, indefinable guiding light with a nine-minute overture titled "Blessing Force". Like the stunning "Awake"/"Moment" opening suite from the Angels of Light disc, it's made up of a series of abrupt, jarring juxtapositions: high-voltage psych riffage, a cappella group chanting, wavy-arm-dance boogie-rock, mandolin folk breakdowns, apocalyptic noise squall, free-jazz sax wig-out. But what's missing this time is a sense of dramatic momentum or resolution-- "Blessing Force" is less a song than a "on the previous episode of Akron/Family" highlight reel, with little context holding the divergent strands together.
However, as Meek Warrior unfolds, the purpose of "Blessing Force" becomes more clear-- it's an exorcism of Akron/Family's chaotic compulsions (though these can only really be suppressed for so long, as the late intrusion of Oneida-like organ grinder "The Rider" attests). Where the Akrons' side of the Angels of Light split hinted at conventional indie-rock anthemics (the majestic "Future Myth" could've marched in from a major-label-era Built to Spill or Modest Mouse record), Meek Warrior feels like a step toward a more elemental, back-to-nature ethos. Second track "Gone Beyond" is as simple as "Blessing Force" is cumbersome, a Led Zeppelin III throwback with a single repeated lyric ("Gone, gone, gone beyond/ Gone completely beyond" that suggests a certain weariness with progression and a comfort in the act of retreat. And despite its name-check of the Rhode Island thrash duo, "Lightning Bolt of Compassion" is pure Nick Drakery (albeit unintelligibly so). The Akrons' striking group harmonies are at a greater premium here than before, but the grainy, more intimate production retains a sense of communal participation. And just because the Akrons are turning down doesn't mean they've stopped stretching out.
The mesmerizing "No Space in This Realm" begins as a back-porch strum (with lyrics about "booming bling and car alarms" that playfully clash with the song's field-recording ambience) before achieving lift-off from a tabla-tapped raga rhythm, with interweaving horn and flute lines accruing into a dreamy drone-- in other words, psych-folk that doesn't feel like the simple mashing of two adjectives but a faultless melding of complementary ideals. The song's chorus line ("space is love") is echoed in Meek Warrior's closing country hymn, "Love and Space", which captures the Akrons lost in some forest in the dead of night, throwing their guitars on the fire just to stay warm. Each Akron takes a turn singing to the Lord, asking Him to open up their hearts, if only to remind them how it feels to feel. Stripped of the spoils of technology and electricity, the Akrons repeat the song's title like some hypnotized barbershop quartet, resolutely singing into the black that they refuse to fade into. With all due respect to Josh Homme, meet the true Eagles of death mettle.