Akron/Family - Young Gods

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Yeah, they like traditional song structures, but only up to a point. Basically, that's been done and so they want to make the listening experience more complex, more challenging. Think Radiohead. Think Califone.


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Sometimes it is easy to forget how difficult it can be to get the balance right. In terms of films, for instance, think how horribly wrong Danny Boyle got it with A Life Less Ordinary. It was only having watched this that you really appreciated the tightrope that the Coen Brothers walked with their early films, and how hard it is to mix violence and comedy. So it is with records. There are a whole bunch of people out there – usually white and male and with more hair on their chins than on their heads – that want to make albums that are interesting. Yeah, they like traditional song structures, but only up to a point. Basically, that's been done and so they want to make the listening experience more complex, more challenging. Think Radiohead. Think Califone. This feeling generally includes mixing up traditional instrumentation with electronica, field recordings and snippets of musique concrete. This is all well and good but it is also pretty tricky to pull off. Even Radiohead discovered that. Because if you are not careful you end up with, to paraphrase Beavis and Butthead on Radiohead, the bits that suck and the bits that don't. Or, more properly, the bits that sound like songs and the bits that don't. The two Califone albums (reviewed elsewhere) show the difference between having the bitty approach and managing to create a kind of whole where 'the songs' and 'the experimental' sit together rather than alongside each other.


 


Akron/Family (from hereon just called Akron) haven't really managed to pull off the juggling act but they've still made a pretty interesting album along the way, and one that shows a fair bit of promise for the future. Although split up into songs one can't help feel that it should have been mixed into one long track as many of the songs vary wildly in style and a fair few fade into (or emerge out of) dissonant chatter. As for the sound, well there are banjos and guitars, plaintive vocals and clattering percussion, accordions and synthesisers. Before and Again, the first track on the album, sets the template for what is to come. A picked acoustic guitar starts things off and there is some moribund humming. Then a Casio-type organ adds sonar bleeps before a plaintive voice, backed with wobbly harmonies takes over. About three quarters of the way through the track undergoes a complete change and ends in a post-rock workout. The second track, Suchness, manages to be much more hyperactive – over the course of two minutes it swings from being an old time folk song to a kind of Brian Wilson meets The Animal Collective pop weirdo moment, before turning abruptly into a Sigur Ros style blasted landscape instrumental. And is still has time to revert back to a folk song at the end. Nothing else here is quite so mental, thankfully, but many songs are split up by electro feedback, radio interference or deliberately discordant percussion. In a way, as with A Life Less Ordinary, it makes you think how well Faust pulled off sabotaging the more radio friendly songs on Faust IV. Ultimately Akron should realise that, just as abstract art might look like a doddle to daub onto a canvas but isn't, it is actually harder to create interesting sounds than it is to create decent tunes.


 


And they can certainly do this – I'll Be On the Water and Sorrow Boy are both good, simple songs (though Sorrow Boy has a foghorn played through the last half of it). How Do I Know has a rustic charm and Shoes displays a child-like innocence. This is not to say that they should give up trying to do things a bit differently. God knows we need people with a bit of ambition and a desire not to sound like everyone else. Ideally though we also need people capable of successfully synthesising their various influences into a sound all of their own. I hope that Akron manage it.


 

Words: Christopher Dawson.