"For those of you who have seen my simpering, slavishly devotional Akron/Family blurbs and press releases in the past, wherein I make ridiculous claims about them (which I happen to believe!), it should come as no surprise when I reiterate they are one of the best bands on the planet. I don't recall seeing such fantastic live shows ever, except maybe Pere Ubu at the Whiskey in LA circa 1978 or Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd circa 1968/9. Take those unrelated reference points and mix in The Beatles, Chicago Art Ensemble, CCR, The Grateful Dead, The Hollies, The Butthole Surfers, Led Zeppelin, and you might get a notion--probably not. Anyway, this record comes the closest to bridging the gap between the chaos, rock action, tribal bongo-banging and sentimental sing-alongs of their live shows and the necessarily more cerebral, or at least worked-over and layered process of recording in the studio. So, there are beautiful songs and harmonies on this album, and also wild and weird jams, all in the service of their chosen Deity, or Nothingness, or LOVE, or whatever it is they're on about." --Michael Gira/Young God Records
Love Is Simple
[Young God; 2007]
Since their inception, Akron/Family have seemed to enjoy playing in the shadows, always allowing some personality or characteristic apart from themselves to dominate center stage. As the backing band for Angels of Light, that personality is former Swans frontman Michael Gira; on their own records, it's a variation of folk music and electronics. But Love Is Simple, their latest release on Gira's Young God label, seems designed to change that.
An absurd and occasionally awkward celebration of humanity, love, and the natural world, Love Is Simple is Akron/Family's bold, unvarnished paean to discovering god within nature, through a fusion of drum-circle bliss, religious signifiers, and classic rock. The best introduction to this new style comes four tracks into the record, with the joyous "I've Got Some Friends". Initially evoking the Mothers of Invention's We're Only in It for the Money with its unhinged lo-fi folk-rock opening, the song soon segues into a hillbilly country greeting that reflects the album's sunny disposition: "I've got some friends that you should meet/ But don't go see 'em if you are shy/ 'Cause they are always in embrace beyond propriety." The song's second half is notably different, pitching the vocals and guitars to the highest registers, with the result somewhere close to the fantastical prog style of Yes' "Roundabout".
The often hammy results of Akron/Family's exploration of unmitigated hippie gaiety is sure to alienate some fans; the vaguely Phishy early cut "Ed is a Portal" is the first test for cynics, finding shape in a tribal chant and cyclical guitar figure. The lyrical cadence is more important than their nonsensical content (my search for "liquidated hydrogen" returned zero results), but the briefly discernible lyric "shamanistic Shaker spells" nicely summarizes what the band is aiming for.
Simple draws largely from late 1960s/early 70s rock, with its most traditionally structured songs owing inspiration to a few of John Lennon's guises. The Mellotron-accompanied "Don't Be Afraid, You're Already Dead" contains the "All You Need Is Love"-style sing-along refrain that gives the record its name, and first single "Phenomena" oscillates somewhere between "Across the Universe" and Plastic Ono Band's "I Found Out". Appropriately, the latter's lyrics are a series of enigmatic, most likely meaningless metaphysical paradoxes, like "Things are not what they seem to be/ Nor are they otherwise."
The group's bold compositional digressions aren't a total break with its earlier work: Akron/Family are still interested in zig-zagging song structures, it's just that on Simple, they're mural-sized and painted with bold, primary colors. The 15-minute-plus duo of "Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music for Moms" and "There's So Many Colors" are Simple's climax, as well as its creative centerpiece. "Lake Song"'s eerie, minor-key vocal incantations open with a hazy vibe that gives way to a throbbing, incantatory drum-circle frenzy in the mold of the Boredoms' Vision Creation Newsun. The chanted first half of "Colors" is intermission entertainment, gradually swallowed by a shaggy, threadbare verse and torrential guitar outro somewhere between Neil Young & Crazy Horse's Zuma and the fiery denouement of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Effigy".
Akron/Family have stepped into the light for the first time with Love Is Simple, and the results alternate between gawky and deeply enjoyable; the record is bursting at its seams with lovingly and vividly realized ideas culled from a broad selection of prior works. Whether the band is showing off its self-reflexive genre awareness or just unable to keep its conceptual shit together is unclear-- and also largely unnecessary to consider to enjoy the record, which claims managed disarray as its most prominent and enjoyable trait. Simple's greatest success might be that it holds together as a single work despite the general senselessness of its basic narrative. Don't try to sort it out, just dig it: As the band themselves repeat when trying in song to find a perspectival spot on the horizon: "No point exists."
-Eric Harvey, September 20, 2007