December 20, 2009

albums of the decade (VIII)

Akron/Family - Akron/Family (Young God, 2005)

It's not fair. When your debut is remarkably good, you shouldn't have to spend the rest of your career fighting off critics and naysayers, but it seems like that's what's happened to Akron/Family. I think it's safe to say that they'll never make another album like this. Drawing on British folk influences, mixing electric and analog, drugged out existentialism and natural inspiration, this Brooklyn band made a huge splash in 2005. All of a sudden they were joining folks like Devendra Banhart at the top of every other year end list. I found Akron/Family difficult to place, and it wasn't until I heard the album straight through that I finally understood why it was getting so much attention.

There's rarely a grand moment (except maybe "Running, Returning...", with it's heavy forward momentum, the surprise acoustic break and release into a sentimental ballad) on this fragmentary collection of experimental folk music. All I really can say is, it'll put you in a mood; it's heady, sonically interesting stuff that showcases some pretty sloppy moments. The lesser moments only bolster the band's material: it all feels very natural, very raw and unrefined. A song like "Afford" is a perfect example. It weaves a weepy acoustic melody through field recordings of birds, and when the reverb swells and the guitars start to alternate you know they've taken this melody as far as it can go. The prog-rock indulgences of the Akron/Family's most recent material isn't all that surprising. Those tendencies were there from the beginning. Perhaps that's what this is one of my favourite folk records of the past decade. By the end of each track, you'll be somewhere quite different than where you started.

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