THE AVETT BROTHERS: EMOTIONALISM (2007)
1) Die Die Die; 2) Shame; 3) Paranoia In B-Flat Major; 4) The Weight Of Lies; 5) Will You Return; 6) The Ballad Of Love; 7) Salina; 8) Pretty Girl From Chile; 9) All My Mistakes; 10) Living Of Love; 11) I Would Be Sad; 12) Pretty Girl From San Diego; 13) Go To Sleep; 14) Hand-Me-Down Tune.
If I am right in thinking that the title is supposed to imply that the brothers' next record is more about sentiment and tenderness than about brawny entertainment, then Emotionalism quite closely matches its contents. Unfortunately, it also means that the listener is entitled to nearly one hour of nearly non-stop balladeering based on a nearly never-ending stream of guitar and banjo melodies. And even if the brothers' songwriting talents still yield no sign of waning, this makes the experience tough for those who have short attention spans and seriously impaired tolerance levels for minimalistic «calm» music.
Which is all the more sad when you consider how much ass is being kicked by the few exceptions from the rule. For instance, 'Pretty Girl From Chile' is not just another in the continuing series of pretty girls from all over the globe songs, but a multi-part epic that moves quite effortlessly from rootsy Band-sy stuff to a frenzied Latin-influenced section to a loud noise-rock ending, all the while telling a coherent tale of a remorseful protagonist who is not quite sure of whether he is or is not unfaithful to the pretty girl in question — not exactly heartbreaking, but curious stuff.
Other interesting tracks would include 'Will You Return' with its transparent harmonic nods to the early Beatles (one of the vocal parts quite closely reproduces the opening vocal line of 'There's A Place', for instance); and the elegant harmony chanting on 'Die Die Die', which I could easily see transformed into a mega-huge-power pop hit monster, were someone like Todd Rundgren placed behind the production wheel. There is also 'Pretty Girl From San Diego', on which the Latin elements are even more distinctly pronounced, with a hilarious samba bit inserted between verses. Diversity, what ho.
But in between these occasional «diversions», the brothers are mainly busy with laying their heart and soul on the line, highly polished and radiating for miles around. There is a song called 'The Ballad Of Love And Hate', which almost plays out like a tribute to Leonard Cohen: "Love writes a letter and sends it to hate, 'My vacation's ending, I'm coming home late'". There is 'Living Of Love', on which the brothers implore you to "say love, say for me love" (not unconvincingly, but somewhat overlong-ly). There's a whole bunch of slowly bleeding, feebly creeping confessional tunes — tunes that are oriented at the entire small bunch of sincerity-loving idealists that still remain in this world, but even sincerity-loving idealists, after ten such odes, may be coerced into putting on some Franz Ferdinand for a change. Not to mention that, for all his talents, Seth Avett is no Scott Walker, after all, or Van Morrison. This band's efficacy closely depends on the quality of their writing, and little else. And slow, lyrical, heartbreaking choruses cannot be a constant source of catharsis — heck, even George Harrison knew that, and he was never above throwing on some basic rock energy or rhythmic pop hooks whenever SOUL began to seem like a threat to the integrity of the record rather than a blessing.
The bottom line is that Emotionalism is a good, but very wearisome record, better taken in small doses than at once: too much emotionalism stiffens the actual emotions. Still, with 'Pretty Girl From Chile' at least, the brothers do show some development, and none of the songs are bad (in fact, only one or two ballads are truly «hookless» in the proverbial sense), so, wearisome or not, there is still enough strength to get the thumbs up.
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