The Avett Brothers “Closer Than Together” (American/Republic, 2019)

Prior to its release, Seth Avett laid out a mission statement for the Avett Brothers’ 10th full-length album by way of a four-paragraph letter. In it, he opines that “the last thing the world needs is another piece of sociopolitical commentary,” before going on to explain why some of the tracks on the album seem to break with the band’s tried-and-true formula and veer in that direction. He concludes the letter with the observation that “the Avett Brothers will probably never make a sociopolitical record. But if we did, it might sound something like this”.

The letter is worth mentioning for a couple of reasons. The first is that, without it, the sociopolitical aspects of the album might get overlooked entirely. The first track ‘Bleeding White’ comes out of the gate like the album has something vital and urgent to say. It sounds like the Avett Brothers – only excited – which is, well . . . exciting.

But beyond the first track, the songs’ engagements with racism, misogyny, and America’s gun culture are tucked into the same syrupy-sweet melodies that the band uses to describe pretty girls in various airports. Those tracks are then slipped in between the tracks on the album that do precisely that. When it comes to sociopolitical, you would have to know it was there and be looking for it in order to find it.

This isn’t the first Avett Brothers album to have a barn-burner track or two. It’s not the energy levels that make this album different. But it is the first one to be introduced by way of a “mission statement” that waxes philosophical about the band’s reasons for making the songs that they did. Implicit in their self-critique is a slight of all of the artists who do make political music – and do it well.

Which brings us to the second reason that the letter is worth mentioning. It gives us something interesting to talk about in relation to the album. Is the letter an attempt at CYA to soothe any fans who might be outraged by their failure to ‘shut up and dribble’? Or is it humble-bragging, begging for a pat on the back for speaking up about some of these issues when they know their fans only want to be distracted by pretty harmonies?

Either way, the letter/mission statement sets up expectations for the album that it fails to meet. And, in doing so, manages to thumb a nose at all of the artists that can and do carry that weight.

Fails to live up to the expectations it sets for itself
5/10

Author: Steven Rafferty

Writer, Musician, Political Junkie, Oilfield Hand in Recovery . . .

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