Akron/Family is not a family in the genetic sense, but they coalesce onstage into an entity that’s a little harmonic, a little psychedelic, all freak-folky like Devendra Banhart and jamming some into prog-rock territory — but also steadfastly defying any one classification. Formed in 2002 in a Brooklyn apartment and now sometimes living in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, the band is also clearly not from anywhere near Akron, Ohio. A study in contrasts, if you will.
I saw them play at Coachella with members of San Francisco’s The Dodos on-stage, and I remember being mightily impressed that they had not one but two joyful drummers. After the departure of founding member Ryan Vanderhoof (he apparently went to live in a Buddhist Dharma center in the Midwest) they’ve also rounded out their touring lineup with the band Megafaun. A family indeed — one that weaves their audience into a full-participation spectacle.
To get an idea of their ardent live show and touring philosophy, check out this feature with a show at The Independent in San Francisco:
Reviewer Dennis Cook wrote after seeing that show that “watching them leap and cavort in SF, one felt part of some beautiful cataclysm that precedes growth . . . Whether your mind agreed or not, your body will respond instinctively to their fluctuations. More than once I found my eyes had shut and my body continued gyrating, drawn ever closer to the flame they stoked onstage. Akron/Family is writing a 21st century non-denominational hymnal, free of any New Age stink or hippie laziness. What they did in San Francisco was tap into the great currents of the universe and share that energy and unfiltered beauty with us.”
Serious Lennon influences permeate the album, both from the ’60s Beatles harmonies and on into the experimentation of the following decade. On tracks like “Phenomena,” frontman Seth Olinsky’s voice is Lennonesque both in its timbre and in its raw vulnerability (reminds me of this demo), before it freaks out a little bit. Their music meanders through sunny fields, jumps around in bold zig zags, and spaces out into the new frontier — sometimes all in the same 7-minute track. As a sampling: two very different tunes from their 2007 album Love Is Simple (Young God Records):
This song is a crazy cacophonous party out on your street corner, and I’m pretty sure there are some passing Hare Krishnas involved:
Ed Is A Portal – Akron/Family
And this tune — just absolutely lovely, hazy, gauzy. Over a straight-up “Strawberry Fields” opener, it feels like when you’re a kid and you try to float underwater at the lake, looking up at the sun through the wavery green water.
Love is simple.
Don’t Be Afraid, You’re Already Dead – Akron/Family
Akron/Family plays Monolith on Sunday, Sept 14th.