I’m taken aback to 2009, when hipster Avett fans started freaking out over I and Love and You. Here is how a lot of the whining went: “OMG! They’re working with Rick Rubin, they’re going to ruin the Bros!” “What?! The Avett Brothers are selling out! You can’t be serious!?” This was back when commenting, “Why so serious?” was largely acceptable, for the most part. Okay, it wasn’t, but I couldn’t resist anyway. What changed under Rick Rubin’s watchful eye? “Well, umm, there was some piano…and it was more polished…and, umm…” “Shut up! Just shut up; you shame me hipster Avett fans.” But, Rick Rubin ruins everyone.”
Sometimes I wonder if a band or record label will pop up with the name “Rick Rubin Ruins.” I also wonder if I will poke ice pics through my eyes, but that doesn’t mean I’d actually do it, or say those things. Let’s shake off the bad mojo and move forward with this. I and Love and You was a groundbreaking record for the Bros. Not only did it open them up to a whole slew of new fans, but it led to their most successful record to date. A guy’s got to eat, right? If the Avett’s sold out, then they did it in the most humble and unchanging way I’ve ever seen or heard of in a band.
With the release of The Carpenter, the band’s second outing with Rick Rubin, they’re a lot more introspective, as the record goes through a seasonal cycle between winter and spring. There’s also a lot more banjo, that familiar polish, but more so, a band that takes more risks that pay off.
“The Once and Future Carpenter” provides a great opening to the album, focusing on the bulk of the albums theme (death). This is a song that reminds us that death is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t meaning with our time here. It doesn’t mean that we’re alone either. Set against the backdrop of a slow and steady acoustic melody, this song is comforting, despite it’s gears of the clockwork message. That’s not meant to be bad in anyway, but it follows a pattern nonetheless.
The album’s first single, “Live and Die,” is a bit of an extension of the first track, a side note of sorts. It looks to the lover and seeks equality through humanity. The song serves a larger message through the microcosm of two lovers; “you and I, we’re the same.” And, God, can you do no harm with that banjo? Just fantastic. “Winter in My Heart” touches on an interesting subject; seasonal depressive disorder. The condition affects a lot more people than you may realize, but depression is no laughing matter. Interestingly enough, it’s taken from shifting seasonal perspectives. The song proves to be more relatable as opposed to containing that message of hope or hanging on. It could be seen in a commercial for depression medication, though I refuse to see the song as that. Quite simply, “winter in my heart” is the most poetic interpretation for what depression is.
There are the typical relationship tracks (“Pretty Girl from Michigan” & “I Never Knew You”), but the ones that leave an indelible mark are the vastly unique ones. Tracks like, “Through My Prayers” speak to how death affects us, and the communication we have with those who have become close in our hearts, and leave us behind. If you can’t get teary eyed through, “feels like no one understands, and now my only change, to talk to you is through my prayers, I only wanted to tell you, I care,” don’t worry, you’ll get there someday. “Down with the Shine” is a reference to the consumption of moonshine, but lives through the soul of the banjo. Here is another metaphor for live’s that eventually break down, the protagonist here made all the wrong decisions.
The biggest risk on The Carpenter comes through “Paul Newman vs. The Demons,” a strange titled track, with an even stranger musical direction. This is the first “rock” song the Avett’s have ever attempted. The nature of expelling one’s demons is not unknown to anyone, especially to the aforementioned Newman. The track is more profound, than say Barenaked Ladies’ “Brian Wilson” and serves as a shedding of all this negativity before the listener moves on to the last track. Hipsters will wail, but, I will say: “fuck you hipsters. It’s good!”
The album ends on a light note (“Life”) where the lessons are learned, life became relatable, and we’re to move on. You may have heard these lessons before, but you haven’t heard them quite like this. Similar to Fozzy’s outing earlier this year (yeah, strange reference, I know); instead of trying to top I and Love and You, the band became adaptable. Life experience informs the bulk of this album, and with future experiences to come – Bob Crawford, my prayers are with you – it will be interesting to look back on this record in subsequent years. Of all the Avett records, this one will hold up the most; the tribute to the human condition has never sounded better.
Album Rating: Buy It on CD or Vinyl
Listening Co-efficient: Active Listen
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