Posted by Christopher Will on 04/23 at 02:16 AM
Never before has the world of music been introduced to an act like The Avett Brothers. The band, fronted appropriately by Scott and Seth Avett, went from relative obscurity to national prominence practically overnight. Though they have not quite made as substantial of a dent in popular music as fellow folk-rock musicians Mumford & Sons, their major label debut, I And Love And You, is one of the most surprisingly complex and prolific albums of the 21st century. The album spent almost 30 weeks in the Billboard top 200 album chart, peaking at #16 back in the fall of 2009. So yes, while I And Love And You has been around for quite some time, that doesn’t make it any less relevant or striking.
I And Love And You opens with the title track, which also happens to be the album’s first single. Here we find the Avett Brothers simple and sedated, with pretty harmonies presiding over a bitter-sweet piano, while a violin sings sorrow over Scott and Seth’s unrefined, but consistently sturdy voices. It’s here we’re introduced to the stirring power of The Avett Brothers’ songwriting, crafting a story of a multi-layered romance that’s laced in longing. “That woman she’s got eyes that shine, like a pair of stolen polished dimes. She asked to dance, I said its fine. I’ll see you in the morning time.” The romance bridges far beyond the woman described in the song, but also center on the city of Brooklyn, paralleling the city to the unnamed lover. “Oh Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in, are you aware the shape I’m in? My hand it shakes, my head it spins. Oh Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.”
“January Wedding” is the epitome of simple bluegrass, even opening with “she keeps it simple, and I am thankful for her kind of loving, cause it’s simple.” This is where the endearing, stripped down side of The Avett Brothers comes into play. Seth Avett opens up to his audience about the depth of his love, and his innocent vulnerability is guided gently by his guitar and Scott’s banjo. The lyrics are heartwarming, down to earth, and completely stark in the most stunning way. As Seth leads us through the ways he loves his soon to be wife, it’s hard not to smile and be happy for him, especially because he’s so honest. You’d be hard pressed to find a love song this unambiguous and this heartening.
With “Head Full Of Doubt/Road Fullof Promise,” we’re sat firmly in a chair by Scott Avett as he tells us why living life to the fullest is so important. This is the first time The Avett Brothers really seem to pull out all of their sonic magic, spreading out violins, organs, piano, guitar, and drums throughout the 3 minutes and 45 seconds of this anecdotal therapy session. “There was a dream, one day I could see it. Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it. And there was a kid with a head of full of doubt, so I’ll scream till I die…” The lyrics verge on rambling, but thankfully are poetic enough to keep the listener engaged, particularly with the refrain, “there’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light.” It’s never made clear what Scott means by that paradox, but it’s striking enough that it’s one of the weightiest lines in the entire song, possibly the entire album. And maybe that’s what encompasses what I And Love And You is really about. Scott and Seth take great care in finding beauty in the simpler things in life, but acknowledge that there’s darkness in this world, and darkness within themselves.
“And It Spread” takes a leaf out of Spoon’s book, particularly in the way the song breaks down into aggressive acoustic guitar riffs periodically throughout the song. If Spoon had grounded “The Underdog” in more acoustic instrumentation and darker lyrics, then the songs would be nearly identical. That being said, this song cuts with a bitterness that isn’t found in the previous tracks, dually surprising and impressive. You can almost see a dejected Seth Avett sitting in a dusty bar, pouring out his pain and angst into a microphone amongst the sound of clinking beer mugs and casual chatter.
The beginning of “The Perfect Space” takes a notch down on the bitterness of “And It Spread” and replaces it with more downtrodden longing. “The Perfect Space” soars in the chorus, as both brothers harmonize over a softer piano and violin before the song picks up into smacking drums and a clattering piano. Scott’s voice is much more powerful, elevating into a hoarse scream at certain points. The fun of “The Perfect Space” is in the way it’s so scatterbrained, one minute soft and sad, the next loud and angry, a bout of self-introspection that’s riddled with pain and fury.
“Kick Drum Heart” is the standout pop hit of the album, and where The Avett Brothers draw parallels to Ben Folds. The vocals ring thick like Folds’. The pianos and keys clink and chirp with the bright evanescence of some of Folds’ more optimistic, if not sometimes sarcastic, works. This is a dancy, organic indie-pop track with a hook that’s unique, lyrics that are easy to remember, and a sound that ignites the heart with happiness. “My heart like a kick drum, my love like a voice.” It’s hard not to crack a smile and bob your head to the short, spritely breakdown in the bridge. This care-free and vivacious tone is a bit of a different sound, particularly in the sonic scope of the entire album, and is the perfect example of the creative and versatile side of the band’s talent.
“A Slight Figure Of Speech” could be sonically considered a modern day take on the Violent Femmes “Blister In The Sun,” and is The Avett Brothers’ most apparent attempt at indie-rock. The attempt is definitely successful, and the carefree nature of the song is apparent from the get-go, with the song opening with scattered laughter and a voice yelling “What the?” The track progresses with a mindless, joyous banter, and there’s even a bit of rap at one point, with the rapid-fire spoken word in the middle of the song. “A Slight Figure Of Speech” has enough spunk and punk influence to make it easily one of the most enjoyable, if mindless, tracks on the album.
Their second major label release is rumored to drop sometime in the next year, but with I And Love And You presenting such a stalwart cut of tracks, it’s safe to say that even The Avett Brothers will never again be able to create such a unique work of art.
The Avett Brothers will play as the headliner to Penn State’s Movin’ On festival. Get yourself well acquainted with I And Love And You, as well as some of their previous works. They’re sure to put on a great show.
Author: Christopher Will
Bio: Christopher Will is a junior studying Communications and English at Penn State. He enjoys scouring the internet for the latest pop music news and gossip, and loves sharing new music with his friends and peers. Some of his favorite artists include Breathe Carolina, Fun., Childish Gambino, Gotye, Yellowcard, and Robyn.
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