Comfort Food, Sellaband's The Akibas
Here in the states we are smack in between our two “holidays of excess.” The true meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas can be lost in the flurry of culinary activity and the season is given over to trotting out old family recipes heavily laden with spices and ingredients that sit in food warehouses all year like prisoners awaiting parole. Can you see yourself rushing to the store at midnight any other time of year just because you have a craving for those glistening day-glo fruitbits that Aunt Tilly pawns off as the secret of her fruitcake? Jesus! The sugar-and-spice combo can keep you tossing like a worm on a blistering sidewalk straight through til New Year’s Day.
Superbowl Sunday is a day of extreme gastric excess as well but the ample fare is more nap-inducing because it leans in the direction of comfort food. The five fundamental ingredients, meat, cheese, dough, potatoes and salt, are laid out in all their permutations and serve to lay us out just in time to miss the 4th quarter. I prefer Superbowl fare to Christmas and it’s not because I don’t appreciate Aunt Tilly’s fruitcake. The last eight year’s worth have given me a good start on a garden wall. I just prefer to taste what the food is made of rather than what it is made with.
The Akibas are comfort food for the ears. Here and there you get a hint of rosemary or a tinge of peppercorns but meat and potatoes are front and center and the longer you chew the better it tastes. The best porterhouse follows a straight path from hoof to plate, stopping only for a little salt, pepper and heat. This seems to be The Akibas’ recipe for music crafted from the basic ingredients of guitar, bass, drums, organ and vocals. With all the production toys available today it can be easy to make recordings that would be impossible to recreate live, and fans are often disappointed by the chasm that can exist between a recording and a live show. The Akibas give the impression that this would be a great band to see live.
Stylistically, The Akibas land somewhere in the midst of some very recognizable influences. The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Neil Young loom large but I catch a whiff of American Beauty era Grateful Dead along with a charm akin to White Bird by 60′s bay area band It’s A Beautiful Day. The well thought out introductions and less-is-more approach to chord progressions lead the ear directly to the heart of the song. When the progressions are simple, the arrangement makes them sound sophisticated and when the progression is more sophisticated the arrangement sounds deceptively simple. The tracks, although demonstrating a high level of musicianship, are tasteful and never make the listener feel like he’s being left out of some deep musical secret.
“Don’t Be Shy” starts off with a Stonesy guitar intro but the track quickly settles in to frame Melodie Jones’ vocal in an elegant way. That’s not at all to say that the the oomph is lost as there is plenty of impact in the rhythm section. The guitar parts created by Joe Holroyd and Huw Akiba-Jones are classic examples of what can be done with a good guitar, a tube amp and some taste. Going to fours on the bridge is also a nice touch and really launches the solo.
“Can’t Deny” is a relentless eight bar chord progression the simplicity of which allows the song to morph between major and minor modes with a minimum of trickery. It is a minor progression but the “majorness” hangs over the entire song like a veil of optimism over the poignant lyrics. I especially love the simplicity of the bass in doing nothing more than providing a simple foundation. Playing each note as if it were the last note on earth is a sign of maturity. It would be so tempting to wank along with whatever was the latest lick in the guitar mags but I have an image of The Akibas’ aptly named bassist Clanger rolling up his sleeves and squeezing off every note with both hands while smiling at his bandmates as if to say “It all starts here baby and you’re nothing without THIS.”
The Akibas set a nice table and offer a great opportunity for the Sellaband community to be part of a classic album. My one criticism of what is offered on their Sellaband profile is that the vocals could be much more prominent in the mix. They are well written, well sung and shouldn’t have to fight through the tracks to be understood. But I have to think that this is a symptom of exactly how a decent recording budget would benefit this music. With the proper resources the vocals could be placed prominently without losing the impact and excitement of the track.
All that’s missing here is the size and breadth that a first class studio recording would certainly provide. That, and perhaps the collaboration of a like-minded producer smart enough to massage these musicians into the performance of their lives without interfering with the creative spirit evident on the recordings thus far. Recording at a higher resolution and mixing in a professional environment could certainly place The Akibas before the most discerning audience with no apologies whatsoever. The bottom-end on this band is that they are a winner waiting to happen.
In the meantime it’s back to the holiday fare and Pepto-bismol. I’m looking forward to Aunt Tilly’s package arriving. She’s not a Pink Floyd fan but once a year she unwittingly pays tribute and puts another brick in the wall. Happy Holidays!