Seems that after a tour together, Michael Gira and his tour mates Akron/Family decided to make a record. Not only were the newbies Akron/Family opening for the ex-Swans mouth piece and Young God head honcho, they also backed him while in Angels of Light guise. I hold in my sweaty, but well manicured, hands (you'd die to have my cuticles) the distilled results of all involved hanging out together on the tour bus.
For the uninitiated and thereby uncool, Gira's sort of recent project Angels of Light and the still really new Akron/Family dovetail musically. Both explore the underside of Americana and fit loosely under the "Freak Folk" flag. Akron/Family revealed a more eclectic/diverse spirit on their recent debut. Gira's Angels stuff seems a bit more acoustic and fractured folkie. Gira is also much better groomed. Those Akron guys could do with a beard trim and maybe a good scrubbing.
The album begins with seven songs sans Gira, then ends with five that Gira helmed.
The Akron/Family tracks are louder and rawer than the music on their debut. Gone is the Thom York-esque delicacy, and here is a more Beatles rock/ prog hybrid. They never descend to mere slavish aping of their forbearers. The occasional off instrumentation or musical quirk (the final Akron only tune begins as early Yes and ends with church revival yelling) sees to that. It all adds to both boon and bane. There's a raucous energy here, breaking the near somnambulant insularity of their initial outing. Unfortunately, the intimacy and immediacy of the campfire has evaporated, replaced by an atmosphere carnival.
When Gira steps aboard, up goes the intensity and edge. Even when he might be joshing, Gira radiates a near malevolent energy. The guy is more than a little scary. Several of these tracks would fit snuggly on a Swans release. Guitars menace and Gira's vocals hint at mean even at a soft croon. A stand out is a cover of Dylan's I Pity The Poor Immigrant. Gira adds a laconic delivery to one of Dylan's lesser known gems. There's even a cover of an old Swans' tune (Mother / Father), which is a good working example of the terrain both groups cover. Gone are the bombast and sonic assault of old, revealing an actual, almost homespun melody with nary an ounce of drama sacrificed.
In the end, the whole affair is more a between meal snack. Yet, there's a tasty morsel or two here to wet the appetite and ready the eager for the feast to come. Gira shines brightest. Decades after fronting the Swans, he still has oodles to say. I hope he brings those Akron guys along on his next project.