by: Kyle Olson
On their latest outing, Young God Records flagship freak-folk collective Akron/Family lays down another solid collection of peyote-fueled midnight campfire singalongs, which finds the band, once again, shifting up their “sound.” The Akrons seem to be in a state of constant flux, as their style has never been solidified from release to release. On their first album, these bearded Brooklynites came to the table with an organic, woodsy collection of tunes that sounded as if former labelmate Devendra Banhart and the Microphone’s Phil Elverum made sweet musical love in a cozy, yet rustic, cabin on a sweet, moonlit summer night. The songs were largely reserved, interspersed with field recordings, and incorporated just enough oddness and experimentation to warrant the “freak” portion of the genre’s moniker. Following the critical acclaim of their debut, Young God label owner, and former Swans frontman, Michael Gira made his production credit far more audible on the next Akron outing: a split release with Gira’s Angels of Light solo project (where Akron/Family wrote half of the release’s songs, and acted as the Angels of Light backup band on the other half). The Akron/Angels split found these gents becoming much more rambunctious. The songs became more percussive, a great deal louder, and far more wild and energetic. Certain tracks, like the fantastic “Raising the Sparks”, psyched this reviewer up so much with its vigor and feral joy that he felt like tearing out someone’s throat with his teeth (but...in a good way?). It was a strong departure from their eponymous debut, but critics found no reason to complain.
This brings us to Meek Warrior, the new Akron/Family album, which finds our intrepid heroes shifting their sound yet again. This release is the first that seems like a logical progression from the release preceding it. Meek Warrior combines the campfire commune feeling of their debut release, with their split’s tendency for hypnotic repeating phrases, and an energy that’s a compromise between the two. The opening track, “Blessing Force”, is a sweathouse freak-out, cleansing themselves of all of the out-of-control elements left over from the Angels of Light outing. Over nine and a half minutes, the Akrons engage in an Animal Collective-like drum circle, a freeform a cappella singalong, brief world rhythm hiccups, classic-rock like jams, and saxophone skronking over walls of noise. It’s a challenging opener, but it makes the rest of the album feel even more pacific and tranquil.
The remaining six tracks are serene nuggets of late night aural togetherness. Largely acoustic, the songs float around, tied to the earth with the Akron’s circular group vocals and occasional drum-a-thons. The title track, after an atmospheric morning hymn of an intro, bobs along with upbeat vocal harmonies over interweaved guitar parts and handclaps as percussion. Later, after a couple tracks of very mellow indie-folk, they let loose with the only other electric tune on the album, “The Rider (Dolphin Song)”, which is a glorious vestigial remnant of the split with the Angels of Light. Over grooving drum beats, all musicians involved sing at the top of their lungs in a passionate ritual while members of Do Make Say Think play guest star and add to the overall orchestration/joyous cacophony. When Akron/Family go into tribal mode, their music is very reminiscent of the most accessible portions of the Boredoms catalog (all sun-worship, all the time). Drums, electric guitars, and voices all come together to form what can easily be confused for some long-forgotten pagan ritual. When the last of their noise is released, the album closes with “Love and Space”, an entirely a cappella track featuring vocals from every member of the band. “Love and space” is repeated over and over again while the rest of the lyrics are sung on top, forming what could be the most spiritual-sounding barbershop quartet to ever drop serious amounts of acid in the woods.
Akron/Family is a band that seems intent on making music as beautiful, powerful, and unpredictable as nature itself, and will make it very accessible in the process. Where the aforementioned Phil Elverum often goes for natural soundscapes with often melody-allergic vocal lines, Akron/Family’s songs are downright catchy. Though, as a band who is constantly updating themselves, the Akrons have to be careful not to misstep. While it is not a bad record in the least, Meek Warrior, while being a combination of previous releases, isn’t as strong as it’s predecessors. Now that their “sound” has been more solidified, they will be able to move forward in it with the creativity and passion that has always been present on each of their releases.