If there’s anyone to blame for the current fly your freak flag high neo-folkism it may as well be the man who gave us Devendra Banhart and Angels of Light: Michael Gira of Young God Records. Depending on your point of view, pointing the finger of blame at Mr. Gira should be replaced by worshipful thanks for bringing a few moments of transcendent bliss to a music world that has been blunted (perhaps bludgeoned would be a better term) by the cookie cutter stamp of corporate marketing executives. Whenever a musical movement begins to blossom into something worth paying attention to, there are critics gratuitously poking holes in the veneer that shrouds its early stages. Thus far the “freak folk” scene has stood up to the examinations of the doubters simply because the sound has yet to be soured by the insincere legions drawn to the genre for other reasons than mere organic calling and appreciation.
All this is said in the interest of Akron/Family. Before people begin to question the motivations of artists flying the scene’s banner with increasing regularity, enjoy Akron/Family; enjoy their gentle soundscapes and crashing crescendos; enjoy the careful construction of their twisted pop songs; enjoy their belief in the sound that they create and the philosophy used to make the music uniquely their own. Most importantly, enjoy this record before some dolt on a barstool drinking an apple-tini lies to you about having loved it long before it was released.
Akron/Family consists of four transplants from the wide-open spaces of rural America, each who came to New York City in 2002 to make the music they heard in their heads and hearts. For Akron/Family this music was birthed in a tiny Brooklyn apartment, isolated and insular. The band proceeded to record three albums worth of music on crude home equipment, frequently sending the recordings to Michael Gira at Young God. Eventually Gira was so taken by what Akron/Family was doing that he went to see them live and was swept off his feet.
Akron/Family is a relentlessly different record than what music consumers are conditioned to indulge in. The songs are strange fusings of traditional pop structures played on or augmented by very untraditional instrumentation. A song like “Suchness” begins as a gently strummed folk song before being steadily undermined by twists, bleeps and washes of electronic noise, only to be drawn back towards the song’s original melodic intent by a ringing guitar. It’s a stunning track that fully exposes itself after a few listens. That’s the case with many of the songs on Akron/Family: the more time spent in their company the more they reveal themselves. The eight plus minute mini-epic of “Italy” seems bloated on the first listen but by the fourth the band’s harmonizing and insistent crash of cymbals all makes sense; even the tinkling rattle of what could be a porcelain tea set played with plastic chopsticks wends its way fittingly into the cracks of the song.
“Shoes” is thick with a four part vocal harmony that recalls a front porch jamboree, giving the song a feel of constant peaking, as if the band can sustain a rising crescendo indefinitely while extending the song’s momentum in a weirdly tantric act of lovemaking with the listener. “Lumen” begins by sounding like the tuning of an orchestra pit populated by squirrels playing kazoos, but slowly transforms itself into a plodding ballad before opening up into a grandiose swell of drums and guitar that recall Jeremy Engik’s finest moments. As with many of the songs on Akron/Family, the dissonantly odd heart of “Lumen” is possessed by the basic melody of a pop song. Akron/Family subtly cloak their basic love of melody and tune, but they understand that it need only be obscured and not obliterated.
Akron/Family‘s relentless commitment to oddness can get overbearing at times. Sometimes you just want to enjoy the songs’ peaking choruses and not have them devolve into something unidentifiable. More often than not, Akron/Family succeed in producing a unique listen full of tempered highs and carefully crafted depths.