Akron/Family - Akron/Family
Imagine something like Iron & Wine. Or for the older ones out there, maybe Johnny Cash even. Just take it as a starting point. Then lets add some Grateful Dead or something. Just bear with me. Then twist that around into a 3-piece and even add something more like even a little Flaming Lips. I think that kind of comes close to what Akron/Family is. In a general sense, that is, their sound is completely unique to their own style and it comes through on their 2005 self-titled debut. One can hear the band finding their voice as the album progresses and becoming more comfortable with their experimental-folk roots, creating beautiful melodies that may just be a little too tried-and-true if they stuck to a generic formula and instead add some life to the genre through some interesting experimentation.
Singer Seth Olinsky sets the tone on opening track "Before And Again," as his soothing hums are backed up by a simple guitar melody and a steady collection of computer beeps and boops, joined by strings and finally gathering in totally new melody (think Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour"-era album) and collection of sounds. They set the pattern very quickly of singing one line and repeating it over and over again throughout the track, joined by more members of the band and driven behind different melodies and riffs until there is a new meaning that comes out of said line. It doesn't falsely extend the songs by any means, but instead makes them more deliberate, more to the point, focusing on that exact line and extracting the meaning from it that by the time it's been repeated for the fourth time it's gained new meaning from the arrangement.
Centerpiece of the album is the 8-minute ballad "Italy," as Seth sings in a traditional folksy-manner "I am waiting under the sunlight/I am waiting for my time to come" to be joined by what sounds like a full-backing band, although it's really just fellow members Miles Seaton & Dana Janssen. "When Is time Going to Change?/I'm ready" he declares as an experimental stutter of instruments backs up his statement, it's a great interpretation of one simple line that the music carries the tone. Only to be joined moments later by the clatter of various objects of chairs creaking and glass being hit. The odd combination of objects used to create the joint beat that ensues not only creates something new and very Beck-ian, but still retains roots to their folk-family pasts (Hey! That's why Family is in the name!).
The album continues at a familiar pace, a slow ballad followed by a quicker number, but each song is able to combine a group atmosphere to each one, even the slower ones just on guitar still give the impression of a group much bigger than 3 putting together such a communal sound. "I'll Be on The Water" flows at a simple pace to sing of love compared to a lightning bolt in the chest, or how he quietly questions "The Power I Afford You/Is the one I wish I had over you" on "Afford," the slower songs are met by jarring noises that create not just bookends in the midst of the songs but also punctuate the point being made. Relationships have never sounded so beautiful and so dangerous at the same time.
A lot of Akron/Family's songs deal with these concepts, very simple relationships broken down into the basic elements that we all go through at one point or another and have to deal with. These typical themes are confronted in an untypical format, the ticks and tocks heard throughout each song giving a new meaning to the new yet old situations we've been through. "Shoes" relates freedom to simple Velcro of a shoe and couldn't be more beautiful, culminating in a sing-along chant that finds humor even in the saddest of circumstances. "You Float Away/And Find Yourself Laughing/Into Thin Air."
This isn't to give the impression that the album is perfect. A step in the right direction, but far from it. It's more of a centerpiece for what is to come from Akron/Family, the band finding its voice and figuring out exactly how to combine keyboard strings with experimental loops and folksy guitar. "Soron Boy" falters in its staggering melody, and the interlude the precedes it is practically unnecessary with no real driving force behind it. "Franny/You're Human" has a coda that adds little to the song that is part of it, giving the impression that sometimes even Akron/Family like to get lost in their own loose melodies and experimentations with the sounds. Not every experiment works so well, but enough do that one doesn't even regard them as that and accepts them as part of the melody.
Akron/Family is an album that's best suited for those lazy days when not much can get done (or for those that like getting high), but really is an album that can be dual under different circumstances. If one is in love at the time they can listen to it as a proclamation of the wonders and beauty that comes with being in love, but if one is heartbroken then it will be a damnation to the relationship of the pains and struggle that comes with one. A powerful emotion to get across on what sounds like such a simple debut album.
Standout Track: "Italy."
Final Score: 8.2/10