Love is Simple
Akron/Family trajectory followed that of Banhart: they both apprenticed under Michael Gira and had turns in The Angels of Light, and they garnered critical praise for first being weird and then being brilliant. It seems when Banhart branched off from Gira, he started to fly in circles, whereas Akron/Family continues to grow stronger under his care. Love is Simple finds the wide-eyed boys in the family honing their already stunning songcraft. "Love, Love, Love (Everyone)" is hippy as fuck, seeming a caricature of "All You Need is Love" were it not for the power of their sentiment. The song is a short palate cleanser, a pass through the purifying airlock, before opening into the bouzouki-handclap campfire ritual hoedown "Ed is a Portal." Unlike most of the groups that trapse the road The Incredible String Band paved for us 40 years ago, Akron/Family stampedes down it with terrifying force. They shift into a majestic pastoral gear in the second section, with the locomotive stomp running under the surface. You want to run the maypole to this song, and then set it on fire and howl into the night. This is progressive folk at its finest.
"Don't Be Afraid, You're Already Dead" is actually the thesis of the record, a lazy Dead-ish rove where the album's title is harmonized and rhapsodized without the slightest tint of irony. "I've Got Some Friends" perhaps indulges in some of the silliness that could derail The Incredible String Band even in their prime, but "Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music For Moms" makes up for any of that. Akron/Family is great at creating sprawling multi-section songs, going from a finger-picking-meets-soul-jazz spook-out to a percussive cult jam with amazing ease.
What distinguishes Akron/Family from Banhart and other genre-hopping post-postmodern magic mushroom farmers is their adeptness at psychedleia and all its forms. "There are So Many Colors" is an acoustic blues that is as much Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain" as it is The Rolling Stones' "Prodigal Son", while "Crickets" is a sleepy lullaby with a haze as thick and rich as cane syrup. "Phenomena" is the corwning achievement though. A dozy thesis statement of existentialism somewhere explodes into full bore physchedelic overload in the middle, like a lost track from the middle of that medley on Abbey Road. "Pony's O.G" cascades out of this on shimmering tremolo momentarily devolving into the funkiest skronk-racket groove I've heard in ages, before rotating back to an angelic version of its opening theme, trading a church organ for the guitars. The neo-prog orgy reaches climax by the intricate clamor opening "Of All the Things.' It digresses into CSNY sweetness before erupting back into a psyche guitar and drum fusion eruption, drowning all unsuspecting citizens around the base of the Akron volcano in multi-colored rivers of lava.
Love is Simple is no free-folk bullshit tinkering by people who have bought a bunch of ethnic instruments and likr funny noises. This is the work of third-eye visionaries who can harness the excesses of both their own past and that of the endlessly rehashed, wilted flower-power Woodstock/ Altamont paradox of psychedlia, and titrate it into a focused beam, aimed squarely at the soul.
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