Akron/Family is one of the few bands today that makes as concerted an effort as possible to make their live show a completely different entity from their recorded output. Their debut record, though occasionally marked by experimentation and improvisation, was a gorgeous and melodic affair with any real freakishness contained within neatly wrapped melodies. Seeing the Brooklyn four-piece perform, however, often involves howling, handclapping, lots of percussion, twenty-minute jams, campfire singalongs, primal screams, jumping, circling, noise, solos, rocking out, white noise, and sections of recognizable melodies in between. It’s not that they don’t play songs off of their records, because they do. It’s just that what actually made it to your stereo isn’t necessarily the definitive version, and they’re going to have a little fun with it.
This could all change with the band’s latest album, Meek Warrior, the proper follow-up to their self-titled debut. Although even the press release states that this is a “special” album, somehow indicating that it’s some kind of separate mini release. Having only seven tracks, it takes up just as much space as their half of the “split” release with Angels of Light from last year, yet seems to occupy its own universe of sonic expanse, which, at times, even comes close to replicating, as closely as possible, their curious and energetic live show. The guiltiest of culprits is opening track “Blessing Force,” which, in its nine minutes, travels through several movements—a stomping percussive intro, an a cappella group shouting of the song’s title, a revved-up rock progression, and some cosmic noise to wrap up the chaos with, what else, more chaos.
After “Blessing Force” runs its course, the remainder of the album maintains a fairly steady stream of mostly straightforward folky numbers, similar to those on their previous two releases. “Gone Beyond” is an Eastern-flavored acoustic track, simple and pretty, which is followed by the Neutral Milk Hotel-ish title track, a two-and-a-half minute gem that marks the album’s melodic peak. “No Space in This Realm” spaces out into psychedelic landscapes, eventually deconstructing itself in the end. “Lightning Bolt of Compassion” is far more minimal in approach, some stark acoustic guitar augmented by vocals in either Portuguese or Latin (it’s kinda hard to tell). “The Rider (Dolphin Song)” turns up the volume, igniting this gentle camp fire into a forest ablaze, brilliantly glowing to this fuzz rocker-cum-sea shanty.
As Meek Warrior comes to a close on the a cappella country gospel number “Love and Space,” the band has attacked with their entire arsenal and knocks the listener out with a feather. No closing track could be farther from the sound of an album’s opener as “Love and Space” is to “Blessing Force.” This isn’t necessarily surprising from a band like Akron/Family, a group of musicians who arguably have more ideas than they have hard drive space, and most of them really good ones at that. Keeping in mind that this album is much less than an hour in length, that can only mean that the band has chosen to show some restraint, and that somewhere in the future, they’ll most likely return with a set that could knock a planet off its course.
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.