The Avett Brothers Closer Than Together
Published Oct 07, 2019Oh bless Seth and Scott Avett — at least their hearts are in the right place. The well-meaning alt-folk siblings pull out all the stops on new songs like "We Americans," "Bang Bang" and "New Woman's World," bellowing their self-assuredly virtuous lyrics with abandon. But those songs, from their latest album Closer Than Together, won't be winning over naysayers anytime soon.
"We Americans" attempts to address several centuries of racism throughout their homeland with six minutes worth of self-righteous lyricism. Its overly earnest lines about the "arrogance of Manifest Destiny" and the "still open wounds of the Civil War" don't just fall flat, but grate to no end, thanks to the song's spare, blandly repetitive acoustic strumming. Meanwhile, the protagonist of "Bang Bang" is not only traumatized by his real-life encounter with a gunman, but is later triggered by the violence he sees on TV. However, it takes careful repeated listens to pick on that interesting diamond in the rough of this song. Indeed, much of "Bang Bang" is bogged down by corny vaudeville-style piano and sappy strings. Then there's the bulk of the lyrics, which amount to a diatribe against action flicks before making a weak argument that silver screen bloodshed is connected to real life carnage. Those elements amount to a compelling notion smothered in schmaltz.
"High Steppin" is a bit better than those missteps, but not by much. Its incessantly peppy piano and go-for-broke vocals are somewhat catchy, but only in the same middle-of-the-road fashion as a ballad by Train, Daniel Powter or some other early 2000s AM radio fixture.
Thankfully, Closer Than Together avoids complete catastrophe with a few decent cuts, like "Long Story Short," with its surreal stream-of-consciousness lyrics describing a "beer gut bursting from a bulletproof jacket" and the attributes of other sordid characters. Second track "Tell the Truth" is a threadbare acoustic track with deeply moving harmonies and on point, unfussy lyrics about the virtues of honesty. Unfortunately, the Avett's can't help but derail the successes of that song by ramming in a wooden, stiff spoken word interlude midway through.
If the Avett's could breathe a bit easier and dial down the sanctimony, their compassionate and noble notions would shine through. Same goes for their instrumentation— low key and direct is their sweet spot, whereas lavishness certainly is not. Sadly, precious little restraint is found on the stuffy, haughty Closer Than Together. (American/Republic)