The Avett Brothers’ hotly anticipated release Closer Than Together (Republic) hit the streets October 4th. Out of the gate, or should I say the cannon, it’s freaking London Calling to the faraway towns. “Bleeding White” launches this album like a Saturn 5. A scorching guitar solo rips a hole in your heart with a tone straight out of hell. It’s a breakup song with a twistful [not a typo] of innovative lyrics that strike a vain — “I left you, but you can find me, if I don’t wander too far away.” Interestingly, The Avett Brothers alluded to The Clash before – the True Sadness album cover evokes Give Em Enough Rope. I wonder if this one is as coincidental?
Seth and Scott Avett, Bob Craword, and Joe Kwon, the recording Avett Brothers band, have established themselves as Americana headliners of the first order. And you can find that here. “Who Will I Hold,” “When You Learn,” and “Better Here” all deliver the goods.
“Locked Up” turns up the beat with some great allusion-inducing lyrics about getting older. It’s my favorite after “Bleeding White.” A driving bass riff of eighth notes hitting the root take you down the highway like “a jack hammer tired of jerkin’”. I get it. Keep it coming.
The first single from last June, “High Steppin’, starts with some great buddy lyrics about “driving circles in the canyons of my mind.” But suddenly it switches to a spoken word passage, one of two on the album. Who’s speaking though? The tone is entirely different from the vibe the singer was bringing. Maybe the angel on his shoulder? The poem is actually pretty compelling, but then he ends up disclaiming it and saying he only knows what comes next – a series of claims by the singer none of which make as much sense as the poem. But maybe that’s the point. The singer keeps turning to the wrong shoulder. Maybe I’m overthinking it. But I appreciate the chance.
There’s also a heartfelt Daddy song – “C Sections and Railway Trestles” – that’s a nursery rhyming game of impressive breadth. And maybe a female family member on some wonderous backup vocals? When it works – “planning for the future, health and dental, picking up my baby boy easy and gentle” — aww, that’s nice. But “Dad’s just a muscle and Mom’s just a vessel,” huh?
None of that, though, is what listeners will be talking about. In a “Mission Statement” announcing Closer Than Together, Seth wrote that he and Scott “speak daily with each other about the lunacy of the world in which we live . . . the beauty of it, the mystery of it, the hilarity and the unspeakable calamity of it.” A good chunk of this album seems to have forgotten about the beauty, mystery, and hilarity to focus on the whole calamity thing. It’s like that dream where you’re back in college and not ready for the exam. In this case, the class is something like, Everything Sucks and You Know It. “We Americans,” “Bang Bang,” and “New Women’s World” feel, well, a little forced. “Tell the Truth” is more personal. In a strange way, it makes me think of some combination of Brandy and The Chi-lites’ Have You Seen Her. “Long Story Short” starts out promisingly, like one of those movies – or Thomas Pynchon novels – where you move from one character to the next as they interact. It’s a great idea for a song structure. But like these other songs, at least for me, it paints the tragedy in too dark a red while drawing conclusions that could be left to the listeners to draw themselves.
“It’s Raining Today” closes the album with a depression song that would make Cole Porter proud. It’s a great song but, man, on the tail of this album . . . if you’re in a good mood when you put this one on, you won’t be when it’s over. That’s not a criticism. That’s the point.
You can get more information on the band’s website and buy Closer than Together on CD or vinyl at Amoeba Music or here: https://www.theavettbrothers.com