The recent popularity of freaked-out psych-folk has brought new meaning to the concept of the pop album. Whether it is the stripped-down meanderings of Devendra Banhart or the mixed-up gospel of Br. Danielson, the idea of the pop album has been transformed by fearless innovation in song writing, production and genre. If anyone understands this, it’s Young God’s latest signees, Akron/Family. By combining sincere songwriting with a keen understanding of layering sound with varied production styles, Akron/Family, a four-piece from Brooklyn, has already transcended category with its eponymous debut full-length.
Similar to Sufjan Stevens’s work, Akron/Family is characterized by sincere folk songs textured with instrumentation and connected by avant-garde sound passages. The band’s style recalls weird-pop acts like Animal Collective and Deerhoof, but where those artists explore the extremities of noise-pop, Akron/Family works with subtler experimentation. Using conventional instruments alongside unconventional objects, Akron/Family spends as much time in catchy melodies as it does in territories of noise.
Opener “Before and Again” begins as a lo-fi pop song with gentle acoustic guitar and sweet falsetto vocals. As the song continues, field recordings, computer blips and violins add texture. As it nears the four-minute mark, the song unexpectedly shifts tempo, entering into a percussive and swirling 3/4 jam. This breakdown sets up “Suchness,” the murky second track that contains more shifts than its predecessor. “Part of Corey” begins with piercing noise a la Wolf Eyes that evolves into a calming, oceanic hum, which in turn lays a foundation for the lyrics: “I knew if I was drowning/ I would be saved.” “Italy” is a sprawling, laid-back, eight-minute ballad that is kept in time by the squeaking of a wooden chair and made complete by the interplay of electric guitars and bass. And the album’s variation continues — a rhythmic and pounding banjo romp, two-and-a-half minutes of field noise, synths. Closer “Franny” shows the group at its most vulnerable with the line: “Please, Lord, give me strength/ To be nobody.”
On the band’s first widely distributed release, Akron/Family has accomplished what most musicians fail to do in an entire career. In a perfect combination of inspired production, innovative instrumentation and transcendent songwriting, Akron/Family is a richly layered and flowing album that is as emotional as it is challenging.