September 12, 2012

Test Spins: The Avett Brothers, The Carpenter

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The Avett Brothers sixth album, The Carpenter, released on September 11, is a work three years in the making. Given the time Scott and Seth spend on shows,  it’s incredible how the two brothers somehow manage to continue blowing their peers out of the water. In this new album, they exceed the emotionalism of Mumford & Sons, surpass the innovation of Andrew Bird and, at times, even rock harder than The Black Keys. They are genre-less, or to put more it correctly, genre-encompassing — folk, bluegrass, country and rock — and their versatility is continuously expanding.

Not only does The Carpenter cover a spectrum of styles, it also elicits a prism of emotions from the band. Influenced by their personal lives, such as bassist Bob Crawford’s two-year-old daughter battle with a brain tumor, many tracks deal with heavy subjects. However, the album does not get bogged down. The lyrics preach hope rather than despair, and appreciation in response to loss. As the chorus of opening number, “The Once and Future Carpenter,” states, “If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die.”

The album is full of sober tracks similar to the opener, including “Through My Prayers,” which contains weighty cello melodies and weightier messages, with lines like, “If you have love in your heart let it show while you can.” These songs are much in the same vein as the brothers’ last two albums, which contain similarly moving themes. Their engaging lyricism stays consistent throughout their work — from the old line, “Three words that became hard to say / I and Love and You,” they have continued to write equally moving statements such as, “I never lived till I lived in your light,” from the track “A Father’s First Spring.”

However, The Carpenter stands out most from the rest the brothers’ work in its upbeat songs. For the first time, two of their tracks consist mainly of electric guitar and are very heavily rock influenced. The first, “Pretty Girl From Michigan,” is the latest and most distinctive in a series of “Pretty Girl From ____.” Its heavy swing beat and electric guitar riffs is reminiscent of The Beatles. The second rock-influenced track, “Paul Newman vs. The Demons,” is one of the most interesting. It also employs heavy electric guitar riffs and is one of the brothers’ more vociferous songs, interspersed by repeated cries of “Yeah!”

The other upbeat songs on the album — “I Never Knew You,” “Geraldine,” and “Live and Die” — are all spectacular and singular. “I Never Knew You” introduces a humorous hook: “You say I wouldn’t know you now / Well I didn’t even know you then.” The song deals with change over the course of a relationship, a theme most of us can relate to. “Geraldine” kicks off with a quick drum fill, is a quirky number about a woman who is described as “Progress / In her black dress / She is a killer.” The second song off the album, “Live and Die,” is a glorious number that throws out one catchy melody after another. It was the first single released, and is debatably one of the strongest songs on the brothers’ discography. The banjo intro, the lilting harmonies between Scott and Seth, and the lines, “You and I, we’re the same / Live and die, we’re the same,” convey a very simple message that the brothers manage to deliver without coming off as corny.

The long awaited album by the North Carolina small-town band with a big heart delivers. The brothers do not lose themselves in the attempt to create something new, as so many bands do. Nor, despite their growing success and fame, do they mislay the pure hometown mystique that has made them so exceptional. The band continues to expand and innovate, heartily following through on their own lyrics, from “Live and Die,” “Can you tell that I am alive? / Let me prove it to you.” The Avett Brothers are very much alive, and through their newest album, they have very much proven that.

Original Author: Clio Chang