Updated: Mar 4
On October 4, 2019 the Avett Brothers released their tenth studio album, Closer Than Together. But who are The Avett Brothers? Are they even brothers?
The band, The Avett Brothers started with actual brothers, Scott and Seth Avett.
Scott was more of the lead singer and front man, while Seth began to learn the guitar to compliment his brother. Running away from their country roots in Concord, North Carolina, the brothers formed a real-life rock band--Nemo. While this band did not gain any notable success it did eventually lead the brothers in a more serious direction when they met their third “brother” and bassist, Bob Crawford. Though Crawford barely knew how to play the stand up bass when they met, he was the missing piece the brothers needed. Without him, the brothers would not have realized that they needed to get out of North Carolina in order to gain any sort of traction. Next addition was chef and cellist Joe Kwon. Kwon first played on the band’s Emotionalism album, but then was hired full time, which added a sense of refinement to the group, with his classical background. Other members that tour with the group include bassist/pianist Paul Defiglia, drummer Mike Marsh, and fiddler Tania Elizabeth. Their music has been difficult to define over the years. They’re Americana, folk, but also have a taste of alternative rock, and a hint of bluegrass, while constantly evolving. While many singer songwriters write about their lives, The Avett Brothers do it in a way that is so eloquently specific, that it is guaranteed to touch even the Tin Man.
And their tenth album follows suit, unexpected and expressive. While listening to albums straight is now seen as an outdated thing, I would highly recommend it for this one. The first track will make you think you’re listening to the wrong record it is so out of the box for the brothers. With intense distorted guitars, and a powerful riff continuing throughout the brothers seemed to be moving in a new direction with “Bleeding White”, until the bridge section where they return to their roots with a gentle piano, and Seth’s sincere vocals. The third song of the album “We Americans” is a six and half minute song shedding light on our current political landscape which gently builds starting with acoustic guitar and vocals, and adds more elements as it progresses. But the song is also evocative explaining the “arrogance of manifest destiny” and how we “can’t erase the sins of our nation.” Probably the most creative song on the album is “C Sections and Railway Trestles,” how can one person possibly rhyme that many words together?! Not only does this song prove that Seth (and also Scott) are impeccable songwriters, but they’re also capable of writing fun, funky, and funny tunes like this one. “Bang Bang” is most likely the most touching and thought-provoking tune of the album. It focuses on the parallel between the violence in our world and the normalization of it in the movies and video games, which of course is perfectly accented by brother harmonies, strings, and piano. But what was the biggest hit of the album? The upbeat, very produced, groovy, “High Steppin.’” While it seems to sway more towards a pop realm with the arrangement and dynamic synthesizer, it politely juxtaposes the weight of the themes presented in the song about life’s limitations.
LONG STORY SHORT: Without a doubt this has been the most political album of The Avett Brothers discography. Not only is that significant for the band, but we’re also in a political landscape right now where everyone has an opinion, but afraid to sing about it. Nothing like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young exists anymore, and while the brothers made it clear with their public disclaimer before the release of the album, their songs have a balance between political honesty, and personal introspection. Produced by Rick Rubin, the album returns to more of their older production techniques with more focus on the lyrics and spoken word monologues. Closer Than Together is nothing you can enjoy passively, and I think the band intended on that.