There’s a good reason why Akron/Family is the first name listed on this album. If you want to get into particulars, there are actually four good reasons. First off, they come first alphabetically. Second, they actually play on every song on the disc, performing their own compositions and backing Angel of Light Michael Gira on his. Third, their “half” of this so-called “split” is actually a much longer portion than Gira’s. And fourth—no offense or degradation meant toward Gira, of course—they steal the damn show. Considering Gira, himself, has put out countless albums, whether as Angels of Light or with The Swans, allowing one of his own favorites to take over most of the record is the least he could do. And in that bulk of space that they take up here, they fill up every square inch with psychedelic sonic wonder.
After hearing Akron/ Family’s magnificently celebratory and wildly uneven self-titled psych-folk masterpiece earlier in 2005 (admittedly, it took me a little longer than that to hear it), the opening of this disc comes as something of a surprise. “Awake,” a two-and-a-half-minute Radiohead-like space pop song comes in stark contrast to the folky and rocking “Before and Again.” That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, though. Following that is “Moment,” a bizarre but unique song that begins with bursts of noise, transitioning into a melody of pick harmonics and a group singalong. Its freak-punk aesthetic seems to suggest a different direction than that of their previous record, even though that album saw the band experiment with all sorts of different variations on rock and folk and everything in-between.
Some might call the masterpiece here the eight minute dream-pop opus “Future Myth,” and those people might be right. It’s a soaring, melodic journey, the kind that Mercury Rev and Spiritualized used to take us on before they entered the 21st century. Then again, “Dylan Part II” makes a great case for best song as well, with its minor key descending melody, complete with Led Zeppelin-like breakdowns at the coda. But, really, it doesn’t get more out of control and utterly fucking awesome than “Raising the Sparks,” a live favorite that includes, but is not limited to: far eastern chants, hand percussion, dreamy breakdowns, wild riffage and the band’s group howling of the song’s title. Just hearing this on the record makes you feel like you’re witnessing the band’s tweaked live spectacle. So…um…yeah, it rocks.
When backing Gira, however, Akron/Family still make their mighty presence known. On the Dylan cover, “I Pity the Poor Immigrant,” Gira’s deep baritone croons soundly over Ak’s haunting backup vocals and twangy backing melodies. “The Provider” sees the Family creating a contrastingly creepy and whimsical psychedelic atmosphere to pair with Gira’s soulful, yet dark delivery, eventually cascading in repetitive rants. On “One For Hope,” they do woozy country & western; on “Mother and Father,” they take on tribal chanting; and on the lovely closer, “Come For My Woman,” they play a sort of Spanish inflected surf blues that marks the best moment on the latter half.
Michael Gira has wowed us before, and his compositions on this particular split are no less worthy of our discriminating ears. But the show really belongs to Akron/Family here. They managed to release two great albums in 2005, and adapt just as well as a backing band as they do the main attraction. Let’s be honest with ourselves, though: they’re always the main attraction.
Devendra Banhart – Cripple Crow
Angels of Light – Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home
Bonnie “Prince” Billy – I See A Darkness
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.