There are a lot of ways to describe the kind of music on this album. It's almost a perfect embodiment of the clever, eclectic and compelling alt-folk music that flourished in the early to mid-2000s. Except, no alt-folk was ever actually that clever, that eclectic or that compelling. It's less than a decade since people stopped listening to this stuff all the time, but alternative folk-rock already sounds quaint and out of date.
Not that this album is actually bad, though. At times it might even convince you that this genre wasn't the self-indulgent pseudo-folk it so clearly was. It is hard to listen to peppy folk-rock now without rolling your eyes, but when you consider that the heirs to this musical dead-end are incredibly uninteresting bands like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, this album could even provoke a sense of nostalgia. Despite frequently mistaking uproarious naive naturalism for alternative folk music, Akron Family do occasionally produce something that borders on genuinely great in the album's first half. The problem is, anything interesting inevitably starts to sound like every other free-form, folk inspired song because - have I made this clear? - alt-folk was only ever a mildly interesting musical dead-end, no matter how good bands like Akron Family can be. It's almost a musical law of entropy that albums like this just lose inspiration and peter out.
But it never quite does, because Michael Gira is talented enough to avoid the musical tropes that doomed alt-folk from the very beginning. His solidly decent cover of Dyaln exceeds anything his collaborators could produce, and his voice alone is enough to make you think that you could just listen to this album to the end. Gira is able to produce an effect of actual worldliness that most other bands think they can emulate by singing about counting shadows or some shit. Basically, the second half of this album makes it worth a listen, even now, and even if you largely hate alt-folk.
download a solid B+