Akron/Family

This is the third album from the enigma that is Akron/Family and as always it is a weird and often wonderful journey. This New York based quartet do everything they can to confuse you, alienate you, dazzle you and ultimately impress you with their brand of freak folk, post-rock and whatever other genre they decide to drop during this 35 minute slice of madness.

I say madness but for their standards this is quite normal. It's basically a regular alt folk, semi religious record in the style of Danielson or Davandra Banhart that's framed by two crazy, freak out monster jams. To open an album with a song like 'Blessing Force' lets the listener know early that to sit comfortably would be a mistake. Tribal drums, crashing cymbals and feedback start things off, before this turns into group chanting which heralds what we all think is the start of this song, but no. Another whiplash change of direction and the song careers off in another direction, that of head-fuck, twisted guitar and yet more sprawling drum landscapes. Then 3 minutes later we get the free-form jazz section and if you look ahead on your iTunes time bar you realise with horror that you have 2 more minutes of this ear-piercing noise to go. Just as the Rowntrees Fruit Pastel adverts dare you to eat one with out chewing, Akron/Family dare you not to skip this bit. I took up this dare once and finished the track but never again. As ambitious as 'Blessing Force' is, it does sound a bit like a nine minute show-reel and as the beautiful lo-fi folk of 'Gone Beyond' gently follows you can't help thinking that what just went before was nothing but a glitch in the system and somehow a particularly experimental Liars track found its way on to the start of this album.

So from here on in we get the delicate country ditties of the title track, the sparse soundscapes of 'No Space In This Realm' and the fragile finger picking of 'Lightning Bolt Of Compassion'. Then comes the other freak-out monster jam. 'The Rider (Dolphin Song)' is a measly seven minutes though and easier to stomach than its predecessor. It's a dark, brooding scuzz-bucket of noise that explodes erratically into formless improv. It's the evil cousin of Radiohead's 'National Anthem' and finishes you off with a deafening squall that must utilise every instrument in the studio. But the Family don't leave your bruised and pummeled corpse there. No, they pick you up, dust you down and take you to Sunday School with the closing track 'Love And Space'. Here, each band member gets a turn in chanting the "Lord Open My Heart.." mantra and all the craziness from the past 35 minutes is nicely forgotten.

This is another brave example of Akron/Family's talents. By painstakingly constructing their beautiful folk landscapes, only to destroy them in a reckless act of sabotage, they challenge the listener to question what they're listening to. While this is the albums strength it is also its failing. The experimental moments are too few and far between and instead of the annoying wrecking balls they try to be, when put amongst the delicate psych-folk of the other tracks they become the best songs on the album and are so powerful that the others appear out of place. But there is more than enough on Meek Warrior to confirm that Akron/Family are one of those important bands that refuse to be classified and will go on challenging you and daring you whether you like it or not.