Akron/Family | Review | Ethan White

The secret is in the vocals: voices emerge, separate, rejoin


Meek Warrior
Young God 2006

Akron/Family's self-titled debut was a stunner, a misshapen stuffed animal of indistinct origin you couldn¹t help but love, dancing around the postmodern rubble that is the contemporary music landscape. A quilt patched together from field recordings, homespun acoustic jams, and gorgeous, unpretentious vocals, with just a touch of studio cohesiveness. A subsequent split with patron Michael Gira's Angels of Light left behind the half-dreamt bedroom psychedelia of the everyday, sharpening their songwriting focus and paring down the low-budget eccentricities for a more cohesive, if not exactly conventional, sound that¹s exactly what new music should be: cognizant of the past but not imitative, listenable but not pandering, exciting without resorting to shock tactics.

The group has come a long way from cobbling together the late-night apartment sessions of their debut. They're constantly touring, recording what appears on Meek Warrior during a pit stop in Chicago to work with legendary jazz percussionist Hamid Drake, another stop in Toronto to work with some of the Canadian indie music mafia (Do Make Say Think/Broken Social Scene), and some sessions in their home base of New York City. But if nobody told you that, you'd never guess. It's not that the collaborators are insignificant‹Drake's work is splendid, as usual‹but the final result is as seamless as any Akron/Family output could ever hope to be. Which is to say, Meek Warrior is barely contained chaos.

The opening "Blessing Force" is a case in point, throwing out all the A/K tricks in a nine-and-a-half minute juggernaut of folk-Kraut guitar, cacophonic group vocals, noise squall, tumbling drums, and free blowing.  It's almost too much, taking off in all sorts of directions at once, spinning away as soon as you get a handle on it. It's also possibly not enough, unable to sit still, like a madly entertaining person that leaves after having just arrived. It ain't perfect, but it is breathtaking, setting a precedent the rest of the album can't quite live up to.

What follows, while often gorgeous, never quite bursts out of one's speakers with such (ahem) divine power. Close listening is rewarding‹the boys have a knack for crafting intricate songs that lean heavily on texture and subtle interplay‹but perhaps a bit too gentle. "No Space in this Realm" is like a nice dream, almost egoless in its construction (quiet down, psychoanalysts). And it highlights one of the best aspects of the group: their uncanny knack for projecting what I'll tentatively call a collective essence. Maybe this is my beard talking, but it's rare to hear a recording that feels like visiting friends. The secret is in the vocals: voices
emerge, separate, rejoin, like a nice, slightly inebriated conversation.

Also like your slightly inebriated friends, they"re endearingly goofy.  "The Rider (Dolphin Song)" strides out of murky rumble and harp glitter, epic for all its ridiculousness ("Sky high / The dolphin flies"), seemingly streaking toward New Age idiocy, until screaming turbulence interrupts. Our misguided pilots smoothing things out, amid more squawk, circling horns, and guitar shredding. On paper it sounds like utter pfaff, but in practice it's less gawky, more exhilarating. "A true spaceship has no destination / Only direction," they reassure us. OK, so they're hardly profound, but this might really be what a riding on a flying dolphin is like. Yes, I just wrote that.  These are the things Akron/Family will make you do.