Akron/Family Love Is Simple

[Young God; 2007]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: New Weird Sincerity, beard rock, shamanism, clusterfolk
Others: Animal Collective, They Shoot Horses Don’t They

For now, at least, it seems Akron/Family are setting aside the stark electro-acoustic explorations of their debut in favor of the explosive holler-alongs emphasized in their more recent output. Love Is Simple is a largely seamless sequel to last year's Meek Warrior, in musicianship, approach, sentiment, and half-assed cover art -- though it does take steps enough to properly be considered a sequel. It would be easy (and unsurprising) for these guys to stagnate, but as it is, they've achieved something genuinely deeper here, more panoramic, with a broadened instrumental arsenal and a less predictable, yet strangely logical, trajectory. At nearly an hour in length, the record affords ample room for each idea to develop and expire under its own momentum, without the listener ever feeling hurried or disoriented.

As a cynic through and through, however, I can't help but remain skeptical about Akron/Family. Lyrically, they've always troubled me, shamelessly crying hollow platitudes like the one for which this album is named -- in context: "Don't be afraid/ It's only love/ Love is simple." It takes guts to say things like that without fearing that your audience will ask you to back them up with something more demonstratively poetic, even expository, and this is something they never actually do. And it's a cheap mechanism to airbrush the shortcomings of your message with wailing repetition and soaring vocal harmonies.

Furthermore, what I've heard about their live performances has always reinforced my notion that Akron/Family's chief concern has been with the execution of music, the relationship between musician and instrument/audience, rather than with songwriting as a craft. While this is a valid approach, Akron/Family's material sometimes more closely resembles Peter and Wendy clapping for Tinkerbell than anything highly conceptual. Sometimes. But it's enough to raise an eyebrow. Of course, it's clear that their music is heavily premeditated, but a sober complexity surfaces with Love Is Simple that hadn't struck me before. The careful composition of the pieces is no longer eclipsed by the band's bleating exuberance. Or maybe I just hadn't noticed -- in which case, credit Love Is Simple with making their skills as songwriters harder to ignore. Suspending cynicism for a moment, this is their strongest release to date.

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