In the ongoing evolution of the so-called “New Weird America,” it appears that, emerging from this newfound pool of artists playing psychedelically obtuse Americana, there are some unbelievably talented and imaginative artists releasing records. While Drag City records have done a fine job in introducing us to the likes of Joanna Newsom, Six Organs of Admittance and Faun Fables, Michael Gira’s Young God label has given us the blessing of not only freak folk superstar Devendra Banhart, but the highly improvisational, boisterous and, even, rocking sounds of Akron/Family. Not actually based in Ohio, Akron/Family have created their own strange mythology/ philosophy/ movement called “Ak Ak,” which can be taken as seriously as you care to take it. But more importantly, they gave us two of 2005’s most amazing unheard releases, their split with the Angels of Light and their debut self-titled full length, undoubtedly one of the most trippy and adventurous folk and rock albums in a very long time.
There seem to be two separate poles pulling on Akron/Family’s melodic center, one being psychedelic rock and the other being rustic folk music. At their very core, they are something like a combination of Iron & Wine and Radiohead, which makes for a rather harmonic and gorgeously layered sound. On opener “Before and Again,” bits of found sound mingle with gently plucked acoustic guitar and falsetto vocals. Though this all soon erupts into a barrage of tribal drumming and full band, clanging rock arrangements. “Suchness,” by comparison, is more straightforward and bluesy, somewhat akin to M. Ward, but with more bizarre sound effects and bits of weird Sigur Ros-like ambience. But any pleasantries are derailed immediately on “Part of Corey,” with its interstellar, explosion of sound opening the brief, spacey track.
Like the grand “Future Myth” from the other record they released this year, “Italy” is Akron/Family’s epic journey on this record, more country leaning and twangy, but stunningly beautiful all the same. From there, however, more accessible (even single-ready) sounds emanate from “I’ll Be On the Water” and the dense, pounding “Running, Returning,” two of the most outstanding songs of the entire set. And the odd, cryptic mantra of “Afford” (“The power I afford you is the one I wish I had over you“) lends the sleepy song a sort of hypnotic mysticism.
For a genre that is loosely based around an out-of-print compilation and a series of artists that may or may not all know each other, this New Weird America seems to have paid off with some real gems. Being one to shy away from all-encompassing modifiers, myself, I’m not sure that Akron/Family and Joanna Newsom are even necessarily part of the same genre. There is folk on Akron/Family, and there is bold, dense psychedelic music that seems more akin to the likes of Mercury Rev or Earlies. Akron/Family have quietly presented us with a gigantic album, one that gives off a slow release of big sounds and ideas with very subtle movements.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.