A current political album
In their latest album Closer Than Together, the Avett Brothers don’t try to conceal the message they are trying to convey. It is an explicitly contemporary political album that at times seems more a way for vocalists, songwriters and brothers Scott and Seth Avett to reckon with their own place and societal climate experience.
“Long Story Short” is a folksy collage of different characters familiar to the American imagination. The story is told from the perspective of a man who has just walked into a diner and surveys the other customers around him. “Here I am standing…beside me the door that I just came through,” he sings. From his omniscient perspective (or maybe he is just imagining these lives) he considers the “overweight cop” who wants to “get back to the man that [he] was.” Our narrator sees “a girl with a love of life bigger than normal” wondering “when her life will begin” and John who “just got the job busing tables to pay for community college.” The characters are all either looking forward to their lives, or they are looking back as is the case of Belle, “a lady who won’t live to see her next birthday.” Though the narrator bemoans the tragedy he sees around him, the song reads more like a tragedy of the narrator’s own doing, who sees pain and loss around him in the diner and who sees failure in “the men passing laws…who mix up truth and reality.” The entire song is performed with little more than an acoustic guitar, tambourine and the enchanting croon of a country singer.
Many of the album’s most enchanting songs rely on such a minimalist sound, utilizing the sentimental and beguiling combination of voice and acoustic guitar. “C Sections and Railway Trestles” is another such song. The song is most delightful to listen to the lilt of the words. Each of the eight lines in every verse rhymes, making it hard to focus on anything other than the rhymes. The chorus goes “bum bum bum badum badum,” which combined with the rhyme scheme make the song feel like a nursery rhyme.
The Avett Brothers have a deft skill for blending genres. “High Steppin’” sounds like the combination of an eighties pop song with contemporary country music. “Bleeding White” starts with a dark and heavy bassline and continues into a rock song. “When You Learn” is a beautiful and contemplative ballad. Brothers Scott and Seth Avett, guide the group, providing lead vocals and playing instruments with intent. They are comfortable singing in all the album’s registers, from the energetic “High Steppin’” to the much softer “Better Here.”
This album is very much a response to what the band sees on the news and in media. Though the lyrics are often a dark and cynical take on current problems (like “Bang Bang”), the Avett Brothers impart a sentimental hopefulness into their stories. The second half of the album is generally slower and more political than the first half, which is to their benefit. The second half is full of more compelling narratives.
The album ends with the song “It’s Raining Today,” which comments on the album preceding it. Accompanied by a soft piano and even softer drums, they conclude on a melancholy note, singing “It’s raining today, let’s stay in our room/ be patient babe, the clouds will break soon.”