Sep 5, 2012

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Review: The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter

Oh, The Avett Brothers. What have you become?

I And Love And You may have been the signal of a shift towards a sound that was more likely to break down the lucrative walls of mainstream success, however The Carpenter pitches the Avett Brothers predominantly in the realm of useless, middle of the road shit – with some unexpected alternative rock infused sidetracks thrown in for good measure.

Perhaps this review will merely be a yearning for the days of the spontaneous bombast that the Avett Brothers were known for during their raucous live shows and meandering, often disjointed, records. But that was the beauty of the band – there were few confines through which they felt the need to conform. The world was a simpler place when the Avett Brothers were releasing Talk On Indolence, and quite frankly it was a better place.

This is The Avett Brothers in a contemplative mood. The impact of, bass player, Bob Crawford’s daughter’s illness has truly brought to the fore the symbols of life and death – slowly replacing the old ideals of love and hate. This is a record of startling maturity, even more so than I And Love And You, which represents the mindsets of men who are turning towards their 30’s. Life has dramatically changed since the band released Country Was, and it is undeniable that musical progression is a necessity for any musician worth their salt – however The Avett Brothers are now free to be clumped with the many popular ‘root’ inspired bands who lack any force of personality.

The Rick Rubin factor is an obvious issue to focus upon. His influence on I And Love And You was quite apparent as he managed to reel the band in, in a manner that had not been previously achievable. He has sculpted a more concentrated sound and handcuffed the band’s previous approach of creating records that seemed to include each and every song that they had written during any given year. It is most definitely an evil, however the approach was equally a necessary one for the band to take the relevant strides that they have over recent years.

The issue remains however, that in attempting to forge an album of consistent coherence, this is a record that feels tired, uninspired and contrived. The promise of both The Once And Future Carpenter and Live And Die is destroyed by the ambling Winter In My Heart which is a slow, insipid song that wanders along with little obvious purpose.

Even the return of the ‘Pretty Girl From…’ series struggles to come to terms with the standards that its predecessors have set. The screaming electric guitar, accompanied by pounding drums, show that the Avett Brothers will continue to remain a spectacle on the live circuit – if you get the chance to see the band in the flesh, then do not hesitate to. However it feels hollow and manufactured. The American roots have been eroded, inexplicably so.

I Never Knew You is to The Carpenter what Kick Drum Heart was to I And Love And You. It’s an unadulterated pop rock song with a driving piano based melody, upbeat percussion and harmonies aplenty. It’s fun, and harmless. Some things may have changed in the sound of The Avett Brothers but their harmonies remain an integral aspect of their music. The vocals of Seth and Scott were made to be entwined together – and February Seven expresses this fact to brilliant effect.

Down With The Shine – which has long been a fans favourite thanks to a stunning performance for NPR during their Tiny Desk Concert – offers an interesting blend of sounds as the intial stripped back approach is blended with a horn section. It’s a progressive musical aspect that offers a grander, more imposing sound to a song that holds up equally well with merely a guitar, banjo and upright bass. This is soon followed by The Avett Brothers’ most important musical development to date. Paul Newman vs The Demonssees the band in entirely unfamiliar territory as they abandon their acoustic instruments for a straight up rock song, with a chorus of ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeahhhh.’ It’s an interesting and deliberate move, and one that has Rubin’s fingerprints all over it.

Ultimately, The Avett Brothers are an entirely different recording entity to the band that they once were. This is simple logic and an expression of the development of each musician since the dawn of time. However, seeing the band donning their traditional denim garb for the latest advertising attempt to make the clothing company GAP relevant reaks of the band heading in a direction of exposure on a monumental level. Few qualms can be held against artists attempting to garner the benefits that greater exposure can produce. However when it comes at the expense of musical viability… Well, that’s when it becomes time to look elsewhere for a grand old musical fix.

Domm Norris