AKRON/FAMILY: LOVE IS SIMPLE (2007)
1) Love, Love, Love (Everyone); 2) Ed Is A Portal; 3) Don't Be Afraid, You're Already Dead; 4) I've Got Some Friends; 5) Lake Song / New Ceremonial Music For Moms; 6) There's So Many Colours; 7) Crickets; 8) Phenomena; 9) Pony's O.G.; 10) Of All The Things; 11) Love, Love, Love (reprise).
One marvelous description of this album by a user on RateYourMusic stated that it sounds «like Wilco on speed playing guitar-based cover versions of Animal Collective songs» — so completely up to the point that I find it hard to add anything worth adding. But let us at least try to put it in the context of Akron/Family's previous releases. Maturity? Development? Stagnation? Identity crisis? Artistic breakthrough? Where's that curve heading to?
I am not going to say that we are finally beginning to see the light; but there are some welcome signs on this album that make it, if not more accessible, then at least a bit more understandable than its predecessors. For the first time, Akron/Family seem to be getting a wee bit bored with experimentation for experimentation's sake, and seek to adapt their weirdness to one of many available musical/artistic philosophies. With all of their influences still influencing, no wonder the chosen model of action is the one that demands to get together and love one another right now. The fact that all of its components are filtered through Akron's madness is insignificant in comparison. The good news is, we are finally getting somewhere.
The first minute and a half, which the band spends normally playing their acoustic and electric guitars and normally singing about how "every precious human being's been a precious parent to you... what can be done? what can we do? go out and love everyone", truly sets a Crosby, Stills & Nash-like framework for the rest. All right, so the very next song is called 'Ed Is A Portal', and consists of several meandering sections that incorporate folksy banjo drones, tribal chants, psycho jangles, and echo-drenched neo-Californian vocal stylizations, so you can see not that much has really changed. But 'Love, Love, Love' has given us a vector, and in this light, everything feels a bit different.
The lyrics to 'Ed Is A Portal' seem like schizophrenic pseudo-scientific babble, but the guys simply try to bring together all the loose ways of human existence, from the primordially primitive (hence all the campfire shamanisms) to the hallucinative to those based on (at least, superficially) more rational approaches to the space and time continuum theories. On 'Phenomena', one of the album's few fully-fleshed out folk-rock songs, they explain what they mean: "Things are not what they seem to be — nor are they otherwise". Another stylistically varied suite begins with a minute-and-a-half long acappella chanting of "There's so many colours — without the dirty windows". C'mon people, all those clues and we're still not getting this band?
It's not like their sudden urge to become more friendly, cuddly, and transparent automatically makes Love Is Simple into a masterpiece. Songs like 'Crickets' and 'Phenomena' still only manage to be «pretty» rather than «gorgeous» (for all the aptness of the quoted description, they still have a long way to go to reach the melodic sensitivity of Jeff Tweedy), and each of the long meandering chants / ragas / ambient improvs / madhouse celebrations, on its own, has just about the same overwhelming potential as their earlier attempts. It's just that now, armed with a masterplan, the good bits seem better than similarly good bits used to sound before. You can even allow yourself to wonder at the meaning of the line "Don't be afraid, you're already dead" in the context of "Don't be afraid, it's only love — love is simple".
In short, John Lennon circa 1967 would probably have loved this stuff, much of which manages to pay tribute to 'All You Need Is Love' and 'I Am The Walrus' at the exact same time. It does not so much entertain as stimulate, of course, but it is arguably the first time that Akron/Family try to assault us on the heart front in addition to the mind — rather crudely hinted at by the organ's juicy depiction on the album sleeve. Correspondingly, it is the first time that my heart agrees, if still a bit reulctantly, to join in the thumbs up ritual together with the mind. Love Is Simple may be anything but truly simple, but, at the very least, it is now seductive.
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