(Young God; 2006)
By Clayton Purdom | 29 September 2006
This is one of those reviews where the critic heaves back and forth, flailing between optimism and deceit, pragmatism and writer’s block, words and disappointment. This is one of those reviews where I hope for a better future at the end, because, well, I kinda have to. “Favorite” isn’t a word I use too often in reviews, but bear with me: Akron/Family became my favorite band last year because of the way that their sprawling self-titled debut and mathematically incisive EP managed to outright stun the listener. Like, holy-shit-drop-your-coffee-and-rewind-that-fucker good. The band achieved this in as many different ways as there were songs, if not because of the sublime undertow of “Italy” then for the shimmering dissolution of “Future Myth.” The records were constructed through directly contrasting ideas, one taut, one blissfully endless; this duality alone makes each a shocking listen even today. But there’s exactly one thing about Meek Warrior, the prolific foursome’s new EP, that is surprising: it’s the first time the band has ever sounded bored.
Bored bands make boring music, and Akron/Family tragically tries to do anything but. “Blessing Force” is nine-and-a-half minutes of free jazz squonk, tribal incantations, thunderous squeals, and rhythmic bedlam; it blubbers about unimpressively, an unfocused mish-mash of wishy-washy tomfoolery, just like this sentence. Did anybody besides me ever hear that old Smashing Pumpkins’ b-side “Pistachio Medley,” where the band tossed together every riff they didn’t have the patience to form into a song? That’s what “Blessing Force” feels like: the amalgamation of a dozen different half-cooked ideas. It’s a papier-mâché monster from a band that we’ve heard summon genuine demons and ghosts before.
The track (not a song) works best from 1:40-3:20, the band leading an unaccompanied ramshackle singalong as prelude to a monstrous flailing guitar line. This is well-tread territory — check “Moment” or the life-altering “Raising the Sparks”—but it’s indicative of Meek Warrior‘s other successful moments, like the cooing a capella closer “Love and Space,” or “No Space in This Realm,” which finds the band pattering unperturbed beneath sine-like flutes and hazy ambience, a return to the smoky ethereality of the debut LP. The problem, then, is that “Blessing Force” sucks and most of the rest of the songs imitate with varying success the music of the band’s staggering 2005 output.
There are, yes, exceptions. Two of them. The title track is a trilling oddity that turns to stomping, earthen folk music, becoming two minutes of alien production flourishes and handclaps and sweet, homely vocals. But here’s the point where my leg twitches and I point hopefully toward the horizon. “The Rider (Dolphin Song)” is a fucking monster, the type of elephantine soul-shredder that only—exclusively—Akron/Family can muster. This is a band that knows that “crazy” sounds best with a mix of dynamism, tension, and eccentricity, and while “Blessing Force” fails utterly to shock, when “The Rider” brings the crazy it’s pretty goddamn good crazy, an unannounced descent into submarine depths and spastic nothing-sounding insanity. It’s that good shit, and, while I’d expected more from Meek Warrior, the song shows that Akron/Family can still surge transcendentally, and this bizarre sci-fi aesthetic they’re trying on fits pretty well, and, um, yeah: let’s hope the next proper release is a sturdier affair. At least now we know they’re human.