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Artist: Akron/Family / Angels of Light

Album: Akron/Family / Angels of Light

Label: Young God

Review date: Feb. 26, 2006


Proteges ex-Swan leader Michael Gira knows how to pick 'em. To wit: The success of current neo-folk darling Devendra Banhart, whose first few albums Gira released on his Young God label, while also having subsequently employed Banhart as one of his Angels of Light. Likewise, when it came time to for the most recent restaff of AoL's ever-mutable lineup, Gira employed Brooklynites the Akron/Family, which perform an admirable double role on this latest release, their second on Young God. As such, it's more of a "split-personality" release more than a split project proper, wherein the only difference in personnel among the tracks over both segments is the addition of Gira himself on the five AoL songs.

Gira has discovered a strange and wonderful roots-rock boy band of sorts in A/F. Their first seven tracks exude a country and blues-inflected jubilance without succumbing to jam band excess. A/F's four-tiered vocal arrangements have invited a spate of Beach Boys comparisons; nonetheless, it's hard not to suspect that Brian Wilson or (shudder) the Lettermen may have had an inspirational hand in the album opener, "Awake." As suddenly as the lullaby takes effect, the band obliterates it with the blast of free improv that opens "Moment, during which the harmonies take a turn to somewhere between Godspell and the Muppets. "Future Myth" lopes along propelled by fingerpicked guitar, peppered with the tinkling of that friendliest of all instruments, the glockenspiel, the playful noodling of a penny whistle and the ringing drone of what sounds like bowed vibraphone.

There's something sunny and friendly about Akron/Family, the kind of music that grips your hand, smiles and looks you in the eye like it's instantly and genuinely glad to know you. It's this accessibility sans pandering that may be the band's greatest strength recommended to all in search of guilt-free, feel-good music.

"I've never had a better backing band, ever," Gira said, and indeed, the elder statesman presides over his golden find with gentle discipline, reigning in their flights of fancy enough to deliver the intently performed, dynamic-rich dark Americana that has become AoL's hallmark over the last few albums. The cover of Bob Dylan's "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" sets the table for "The Provider, an Appalachian raga set to a steadily plodding shuffle, and punctuated by stabs of Quine-esque guitar skronk. "One for Hope," one of Gira's cyclical ballads features choirboy backing vocals that complement Gira's plaintive lead. It's those A/F trademark harmonies, again, that hint in part at intriguing new territory on the reworking of the Swans' "Mother/Father. Sung accapella over a vaguely afro-beat rhythm, the tune sounds nothing like the original, nor quite like anything either artist has done previously.

Gira didn't necessarily need artistic rejuvenation, but it was bound to happen anyway, as the song goes, when he found the "right bunch of fellows. Cheers to the second installment of this beautiful friendship.

By Adam MacGregor

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