I remember a musician commenting on Akron/Family to me: "They have the hippie thing going on‚ but they also have indie credibility." Or maybe it was: "They have the indie thing going on‚ but also have hippie credibility." However it was explained‚ it made sense with my initial impression of the band. But the more I experienced Akron/Family and the more I listened to them‚ it became clear that they are far beyond either of those notions.
It feels like Akron is arriving at the perfect time to break the "hippie" or "indie" mold with the depth of their playing and approach. They're not into being divisive-they want everyone to feel it and sing along. They are not concerned with numerically rated album reviews that come with decimal points. That's all trivial. There's no self-awareness or irony about what they're doing. And when they stretch out‚ it's not formulaic tension-and-release; it's selfless‚ group-minded space. While some bands look to-or get thrown into-a movement in music to identify with‚ Akron/Family is making their own.
One spin of their latest album‚ Love is Simple‚ and you hear a group that is fearless‚ confident and overwhelmingly expressive when they play. They sound like a tribal commune that dropped down from outer space‚ speaking in tongues‚ channeling the Great Songbook-the Beatles‚ Zappa‚ Neil & Crazy Horse‚ and Floyd-like they invented it. And then there's everything else: Chanting for enlightenment‚ drumming for salvation‚ understanding the responsibility of how to perfectly place both the awesomeness of crunching electric guitars and the sweet‚ pristine manifesto of an acoustic guitar strum‚ and of course‚ knowing when to use the necessary banjo‚ glockenspiel‚ chimes and a gaggle of moaning women-all while being worldly‚ unworldly‚ and one-hundred percent American.
And they're sponges. They've soaked up everything they believe to be true in music for years and years‚ and when they entered the studio with producer Andrew Weiss (Ween‚ Rollins Band‚ Gone)‚ he relentlessly squeezed it all out of them over eleven cuts. When the first song‚ "Love‚ Love‚ Love (Everyone)‚" hits the four-part vocal harmony‚ you can't help but feel its genuineness by how impassioned they sing‚ "Go out and love‚ love‚ love everyone." Seamlessly they move into feeding soul food to progressive rock with "Ed is a Portal"-which is both over-the-top ridiculous and beautiful‚ with climaxes and shifts that would feel perfect on Zappa's Waka Jawaka.
The three songs that make up the middle section of Love is Simple are where you're either going to get lost or find Akron/Family's brilliance. "Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music for Moms" creates a unique sound; the churning drum pattern‚ vocal arrangement and instrumentation stop you dead in your tracks‚ making you say: "How do they come up with this shit?" It stretches out with tribal drumming‚ vocal om-ing and moaning before fading out. And then comes "There's So Many Colors." For over two minutes the group sings‚ "There's so many colors/without the dirty windows‚" which clears your head space before the song unleashes epic rock 'n' roll glory-so demanding and sharp‚ like the awakening from a great psychedelic trip that opens the doors of perception so you can see the world through new eyes for the first time. In terms of music‚ this song seems to be autobiographical to Akron/Family's approach: open‚ inclusive‚ fresh and uncluttered. And poignantly following "Colors" is "Crickets"-a beautiful come-down sentiment.
It's smooth sailing from there. "Phenomena" has a catchy Lennon-like vocal hook and some nasty guitar counterpoint. You're immediately emotionally invested in "Pony's O.G."-transported to a dreamlike world where sounds and scenes cinematically pass you by in a time of serious introspection. Rightfully so‚ it ends in applause before the band launches into "Of All the Things‚" which sounds like a fighting Irish song that turns the players into warriors on their instruments‚ intensely pounding home their point to the ends of the Earth. "Love‚ Love‚ Love (Reprise)" ends the album with a fuller arrangement of the album opener that sounds triumphantly blissful‚ leaving this overall assessment of Akron/Family's music: "Goddamn‚ I want more."