Album: Meek Warrior
Label: Young God
Review date: Sep. 15, 2006
If rock is a school, the four members of Akron/Family are its most dramatic, most academically gifted spaz-outs. They are fluent in the vocabularies of rock, folk, soul and jazz, and can ask for directions in punk and metal. And, as they prove on “Lightning Bolt of Compassion,” they don’t even have to sing their lyrics in English.
Let it never be said that they haven’t been fortunate. Few acts meet the world with instant nerd cred bestowed upon them by Swans legend and Young God Records bwana Michael Gira. Few debuts get the sort of attention, on the sort of scale, that A/F’s self-titled 2005 disc did – that is, sincere admiration and curiosity with a minimum of calculated hype. But Akron/Family does work hard, touring constantly, showing uncommon discipline in the studio, and serving as their mentor’s backup band. (Gira must be an unbelievably demanding producer, to say nothing of what he’s like as a bandleader.) Akron/Family has the sort of energy that less insanely committed musicians hate.
In a short couple of years, they’ve reached a point of mad productivity and dizzying musical complexity. Despite its scant 35-minute duration, Meek Warrior distills the entire history of experimental pop. Just as impressively, it finally bottles the frantic eclecticism and The Gods Must Be Crazy absurdity of the Family’s live show. The debut now sounds safe by comparison. It’s hard to imagine how this level of activity can be maintained, but there’s nothing here to suggest that the band is going to fuck up its many blessings.
For the roots crowd, Meek Warrior could be frustrating – it often sounds as though Akron/Family is getting paid by the idea. A long free-form freakout closes “Blessing Force,” which segues into the delicate s’more-toaster “Gone Beyond,” and then, before we can finish a sentence, we’re thigh-high in the soured gospel of “Meek Warrior.” It’s executed quite cleanly, but there’s a lot of stuff going on in a short amount of time. It’s a busy record. It’s out for attention.
Throw in a space fixation on loan from Sun Ra, and you’re dangerously close to prog territory. But Akron/Family is too festive to be prog. If pop were outlawed, these hypnotic incantations, psychedelic showtunes and cleansing instrumental interludes would still be pop.
With all this buildup, tension and release, the simple beauty of “Gone Beyond,” “Lightning Bolt of Compassion” and “Love and Space” soothes with the force of a rebooting. Now that they’re on the board, Akron/Family is exploring all its skills at once. It may yet find its limitations, but this is a highly adaptive organism – this level of maximalism might not hold beer forever, but there’s nothing to suggest A/F can’t do minimalism just as well.
By Emerson Dameron