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Akron/Family - Love is Simple

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Artist: Akron/Family

Album: Love is Simple

Label: Young God

Review date: Sep. 18, 2007

Even after having released four albums (one split with Michael Gira's Angels of Light) in just over two years, Akron/Family remain difficult to pin down. Their debut got lumped in with freak-folk (whatever that is), no doubt due to expectations raised by Gira's previous protégé Devendra Banhart, while their two subsequent albums revealed a heavy indebtedness to rather mainstream classic rock as well as some flirtation with jazz and non-western music. It would be oversimplifying, however, to see their unclassifiability as strictly musical; it's also a question of image, and A/F's inability to fit comfortably within any set group or niche reveals how much even seasoned listeners are prone to reductive stereotyping. Are these guys a neo-hippie jam band? Hardly, although it's not difficult to imagine Phish fans warming up to them. Experimental art rock? They're too accessible and rooted in mainstream traditions for that. New age cultists? The unabashedly kitschy artwork (not to mention some of the lyrics) on Meek Warrior looked like something lifted from the Hare Krishnas. Ultimately, Akron/Family don't care about these kinds of limiting definitions, and Love is Simple doesn't make any effort to conform to listener expectations. It's as wild and heterogeneous as the rest of the band's work, and manages to bring all the elements at play in their music into the tightest, most carefully balanced equilibrium they've achieved yet.

Andrew Weiss (Ween) serves as producer here, offering a change of pace from Michael Gira. While it's difficult to gauge the nature of his contribution, Love is Simple sounds a bit warmer and more spontaneous than the albums recorded with Gira. Thankfully, it takes a more leisurely approach than its rather rushed predecessor Meek Warrior, giving the band a chance to stretch out that they haven't had since their debut.

The expanded running time (close to an hour), however, hasn't decreased the abundance and density of ideas. Indeed, density here becomes the key to the band's sound to a greater extent than ever before. The blink-and-you'll-miss-it shifts that mark the album's best songs ("I've Got Some Friends," "Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music for Moms") break down song structure in to the briefest possible components while still retaining something of a pop feel. Love is Simple's most exhilarating moments are it's most accelerated and hyperactive, as A/F make an aesthetic virtue out of short attention span.

Equally important here is a communal feel expressed by the heavily-layered percussion and group and choral vocals that show up on some of more rhythmic, less melodically-oriented tracks ("Ed is a Portal," "Music for Moms"). While there were certainly overdubs involved, these sound like the work of a huge group, and are all the better for it. A/F aren't particularly strong vocalists individually, and the more-stripped down and quieter tracks ("Crickets," the awkwardly-bluesy "Phenomena") lack the manic energy that makes their dense counterparts so effective.

Then there's that whole "love" business. Akron/Family don't shy away from spiritual assertions, and Love is Simple is guided by twin mantras, its title and the opening and closing tracks' exhortation to "Go out and love, love, love everyone!" Such sentiment may be the hardest thing for many to swallow in the band's music (although this is less a problem here than it was on "Meek Warrior"), but it can't simply be discounted or detached. Akron/Family's strong (if vague) spiritual convictions inform the purpose and nature of their music. Love is Simple is about celebration and joy (as all too little music is), and, at risk of being cliché, a certain oneness or unity in the universe. Musically, this idea translates into a flow and a unity between disparate parts. With ideas and sounds coming and going at breakneck speed yet still somehow cohering, the album is something of a study in transformation, just as much about the transition between elements as the elements themselves.

By Michael Cramer

Other Reviews of Akron/Family


Meek Warrior

Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free

Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT

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View all articles by Michael Cramer

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