Don’t be afraid…it’s only love
Holy shit. Holy motherfucking shit! I, like William Shatner before me, am now a `transformed man.’ Over the past two years, Michael Gira, the head of Young God Records and a member of Angels of Light, and a small handful of music lovers in the know have been raving about Akron/Family. Up until now, I had enjoyed the Brooklyn band on a peripheral level, always on the outskirts and never quite diving head first into their music. So, what happened? Love is Simple happened, that’s what. This second full-length effort hit me like a bullet in the brain-pan, squish! Although I inevitably end up liking a whole mess of music throughout the year, Akron/Family has just made a case for themselves for my absolute top pick. That’s how much I absolutely adore this album.
Love is Simple starts and ends with Akron/Family’s homage to the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.” “Love, Love, Love (everyone)” and its later reprise hearken back to the days of John Lennon’s meaningful messages told in as brief and simple a package possible, and, in a way, that’s what Akron/Family are trying to convey. There’s even the sound of a live audience in the studio that was present with the television premiere of the famous Beatles’ tune. That tight package is short-lived as, with “Ed is a Portal,” Akron/Family untie the ribbon and let their freak-flag fly. Within one track, they go from psychedelic drones to acoustic campfire craziness to Almost Famous “piggyback ride” chants with barely an intake of breath. The placid pastoral organic sounds including chirping birds gives way at the close of the song to a processed drum beat and echoed vocal, calling to mind more of the Madchester scene than Haight-Ashbury, and the birds are replaced by a car alarm. So, literally and figuratively, we are thrust forward from the past to the present, or future. “Don’t Be Afraid, You’re Already Dead” returns to ’60s homage territory, as lines like “Don’t be afraid, it’s only love,” and the repeated album and song title act as refrains and philosophy. The Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds all seem to have an influence here, but the song remains steadfastly Akron/Family.
“I’ve Got Some Friends” then alternates back to the multi-dimensional, indie art-rock meets retro-hippie style that we’ve come to know and love. As guitars are manically picked, we hear the intertwining lines of “like a white cloud floating free” and “that’s how it should be / that’s how it is” and the vocals take on a little bit of Geddy Lee or Ben Eschbach of the Sugarplastic. Love is Simple has a little of everything for everyone. Hell, some of these songs on their own cover a lot of ground! Tribal drum freakouts, Sufjan Stevens-esque female backup singers, world beat rhythms, George Harrison guitar solos, Grateful Dead noodling, Brian Wilson warmth, Neil Young intensity, sweet aphorisms, intense build-ups and other sounds and styles that cannot be restrained by a mere `folk rock’ tag all make appearances on Love is Simple. “There’s So Many Colors” is testament to the brilliance of this album and its vision. One can easily tell listening to the latter half of the song, when the chants of “sunrise, sunset” occur, that this will easily be a live fan favorite. With four distinctly different phases to the track, it’s difficult to tell if the song has ended or merely transitioned, but it’s one magnificently trippy ride.
“Crickets” definitely owes a lot to Neil Young. When the word “moonlight” is sung, you’d swear that Young was being channeled. “Phenomena” is being billed as a `single’ from Love is Simple, but the notion of this album spawning actual singles seems ridiculous to me. I say this with all the best intentions in the world. Akron/Family are like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd or the Dead. Sure, there are fantastic songs all throughout, but they’re meant to be heard in the album format. So, in this case, Love is Simple is like Akron’s Physical Graffiti, Dark Side of the Moon or American Beauty. That’s not to say that “Phenomena” isn’t a great song. The comparison of brown and white rice and brown and white Christs is amusing and ponderous, but I also kept thinking about the Muppets’ “Mah-na-mah-na,” especially because the vocals were somewhat Muppet-esque.
The final highlight on this album full of highlights comes just before the reprise with “Of All the Things,” beginning like a skronky freakout and then transitioning into a sea chantey as performed by late-era Zeppelin. Heck, there’s even a thundering drum in the center of the song that could indeed be the `Hammer of the Gods!’ In other words, it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before, or at least heard before in this amalgamation, and it fucking rocks. I love this album on so many levels. For one, there are the direct yet deep lyrics that reminded me of some simple truths when I desperately needed them. Secondly, there’s the idea that every song is multi-faceted. I’ve listened to it probably six times in its entirety, which rarely happens with an album I’m reviewing, but I just can’t stop. I hear something different every time, and each small detail enhances my enjoyment of the album. All of this and a healthy knowledge and reverence for rock history. That doesn’t even cover the half of it. Loving these Akron/Family songs is simple. And to add to a particularly famous song referenced here, all you need is love…and a pair of good headphones.