The Avett Brothers are, in a single phrase, emblematic of dynamic Americana. Active since 2002, the group found mainstream popularity with the bittersweet love ballad “I and Love and You”. Choral harmony, acoustic sound, and emotional lyrics — The Avett Brothers have it all.
Closer Than Together is, in short, messy. A hodgepodge of experimental music, folk-punk, political commentary, and classic Americana — Closer Than Together is the most outlandish album that The Avett Brothers have released to date.
Unsurprisingly, the bluegrass and folk songs on the album are excellently balanced, emotional, and representative of the immense songwriting genius of the band. “When You Learn” is a poetry in motion and is absolutely the best song on the album. The lyrical playfulness of “Long Story Short” is absolute genius.
“High Steppin’” and “Bleeding White” are a departure from typical folk sound. Incorporating pulsing synths and distortion more typically seen in punk music, The Avett Brothers try to push the boundaries of folk music. Unfortunately, these experiments throw off the sound of the album as a whole and overall detract from the album’s strength.
Perhaps influenced by the Dixie Chicks, political commentary is another theme throughout the album. The pop-bluegrass “New Women’s World” declares, “It used to be a man’s world but all we did was fight / I’m glad it’s finally in the hands of the women and the girls”. “We Americans” discusses the tragedies of slavery and genocide all whilst co-opting the sound of a typical American patriotic anthem. Finally, “Bang Bang” addresses gun violence in the United States. This degree of liberal political commentary is quite bold, especially in a genre most popular in deep, Republican America. This shift from typical Americana themes is not unwelcome — but I can’t help but wonder if including these weighty songs on an album with “Bleeding White” takes away from the important messages they are trying to convey.
I applaud The Avett Brothers for willing to try new things — but the variety of sound on Closer Than Together leads to a lack of balance and no evident cohesive vision. I’ll use a line from “We Americans”: “we are more than the sum of our parts” is unfortunately not the case for the album.