Angels of Light & Akron/Family
I've always had a thing about wanting to be on the ground floor of things. I am just off the street enough now that I find about a lot of stuff late in the game, which does not bode well for a music critic. We are supposed to be months ahead of the pack, spying the buffalo getting agitated in the distance long before the rumble of the stampede can be heard by those with their ears to the ground. Used to be, you were supposed to be "over" a group once they start hitting the greater radar, but the gods up in marketing don't seem to like that, so now my compatriots in this masturbatory endeavor still reference a group's early stages, and name-and date drop like normal, but we keep serving the business need of pushing some hype when it kicks in, to a fault. I mean, I think the only people that even like the White Stripes anymore are critics. The kids are all into Clap Hands Retarded Band Name or whatever that damn group is called. Or something else. I don't know. I'm old enough and square looking that the kids just think I'm a either cop or a chicken hawk if me and my clumsy wardrobe enter their hallowed halls. Why yes, that IS barbecue sauce on my shirt, it makes more of a statement about me and my rock-n-roll lifestyle than that corny driving cap and suit pants you are wearing does about you. And really, do you have to bring that backpack everywhere?
Anyway, allow me to join you in congratulating myself on being an early adopter of Akron/Family, the most exhilarating and solid weirdie-beardie band in operation. The new Animal Collective, which was the new Flaming Lips which was the new Floyd on and on and on, this here second release by my favorite rock Mennonites from Brooklyn shows they are tangential path to musical glory. Their halfof his dispatch opens ("Awake") with a slow guitar ramble and Abbey Road harmonies setting this spooky ride in motion. Already it sounds more mature, more solid than their exquisite leafpile of a debut. "Moment" then explodes in a cascading cacphony for a full minute before descending into he most joyous shoutalong song on the line theses days. They sound like a four man Polyphonic Spree, with twice the wild and half the gimmicky collective consciousness - instead of being the latter's show choir, they operate like extensions from a common mind, with a great Krimson-meets-Skynnyrd guitar runs that will send any of you into a fit of unbridled happiness. Latter day Allman Brothers My Morning Jacket have their work cut out for them on their highly anticipated album Z in with "Moment." 'We all Will" is just a beautiful melody, harnessing the don't-make-me-grow-up horse Roger Waters and Ray Davies rode long before them and lights out for the territories. "Future Myth" twinkles like birds, like someone gave them the assignment to tear apart the instrumental breaks from Styx songs and create something meaningful and beautiful and ageless from them.
Its all just great stuff. "Dylan pt 2" acts as a 4-minute distillation of the death-blues-pop cycle closing out Abbey Road, pushing the boundaries that stretch (really, if I have to listen to the Beatles, like you are making me, side two of Abbey Road is the poison I choose.) mixing that same deft guitar work, detuned harmonies and batshit explosions. "Oceanside" is a refreshingly tranquil piece after all the hysterics getting you ready for the Kinks-meets-Dixie Dregs godhead rocker "Raising the Sparks" send you into a spin, stomping out of your classroom or job with authority figure mutedly shouting at your back as you run off join the Revolution. Akron /Family may be wearing their influences on their sleeves, but goddamn they wear them with style. Right now, this moment while listening to it, I think they are the best band in the world. I don't know if it will stay with me, but transcendence in its very nature is fleeting, so grab that comets tail while you can.
You have ex-Swans and archaeologist that brought Devendra Banhart to the surface Michael Gira to thank. Like with Banhart, he put his feelers out and discovered a second implausibly great group to promote. On this split, and as with his last Angels of Light album, he was shrewd enough to recognize the good thing before him and employ these beat farmers as his backing band, and drops five of the warmest examples of his folk brilliance on the back end of this disk. Gira is known for creating music that is exquisitely hard and cold, whether its the megaton death bomb rock of Swans or the ghost-looking-back-at-you-in-the-mirror plaintive music of his Angels of Light, but on How I Loved You, we started to see some of his reserve fall away and almost see this notoriously grim figure crack a smile. On the opening track, a cover of Dylan's "I Pity The Poor Immigrant" we see some of that warmth glowing even brighter, but its back to the iceberg for the minimalist folk dirge "The Provider." It must be said here, Akron Family are supremely versatile musicians, in that they rein in their campfire Bacchanalia to become the steam engine-cum-grandfather clock of God that Gira needs to flesh out these harrowing songs. His trademark baritone sounds more comfortable than I've ever heard it, and the stuff just rocks, like swarms and swarms of locusts are picking the meat off your carcass and you've quit fighting them, ready to take on the inevitable with chilled resolve.
After that epic, perhaps Gira's best song ever, "One for Hope" is a relaxing pastoral number, (this seems to be a well-olied Akron/Family operational plan) and the remake of the Swans track from '94 "Mother/Father" as a drum circle chant is just, well, enchanting. The final number "Come For My Woman" casts Gira's voice in a Roy Orbison envelope of velvet and vibrato guitar, bringing this western ballad in the realm of the sublime. Gira has a good thing going here with this group, both a bandleader and producer, and it seems they him as well. Banhart's rocket shot through the atmosphere of Gira's hand-handled Young God records, and word has it that its an amiable shift, but I'm hoping he holds onto these guys. They are a glistening brilliant band unto themselves, and acting as his Angels of Light, I think he's finally found the sympathetic foils to his particular art he's been needing. The previous Angels albums have been carefully engineered almost to a fault, these tracks bring an element of danger and uncertainty into the mix that I think really suits Gira's persona and presence. Powerful stuff. I highly recommend this album if your are a person whose mind is sorely in need of a good blowing, and given the climate of aggressive conformity and homogeneity that is passing for culture nowadays, I'm guessing that you are one of these people.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com