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Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Avett Brothers: The Carpenter


THE AVETT BROTHERS: THE CARPENTER (2012)

1) The Once And Future Carpenter; 2) Live And Die; 3) Winter In My Heart; 4) Pretty Girl From Michigan; 5) I Never Knew You; 6) February Seven; 7) Through My Prayers; 8) Down With The Shine; 9) A Fathers First Spring; 10) Geraldine; 11) Paul Newman Vs. The Demons; 12) Life.

For those who have already forgotten what I And Love And You sounded like, here is the direct sequel, sounding every bit the same as its predecessor — not surprisingly, once again produced by Rick Rubin. Permanent fans of the Avetts need not worry: none of the atmospheres, philo­sophies, and stylizations have been betrayed. And there is yet another ʽPretty Girlʼ song out there — what else does one need for total orgiastic happiness?

It does seem as if they took one step back from the «excessive» poppiness, cut down on the pia­nos a little bit, brought in lots of guest players to put a little more emphasis on ensemble playing, and only allowed themselves a heavy, distorted guitar sound on two or three of the tracks so as to break up the monotonousness. In other words, The Carpenter is even more formulaic, and it all depends on the sheer number of new hooks they may or may not have brought into this world by writing all this new material.

Personally, I think the songs are generally quite good, and that the B-level magic touch is still with the brothers. When they go totally generic, they still remember to wind it up with a cozy slogan — ʽThe Once And Future Carpenterʼ, for instance, is at first a forever-on-the-road anthem worthy of a Neil Young country-folk album, cleverly landing the last line of the refrain ("If I live the life I'm given, I won't be scared to die") at the center of your attention. Then you sort of rea­lize that "once I was a carpenter..." makes this a little more than just a forever-on-the-road an­them, and start nervously searching for a Nazareth reference among all the Dallases and Detroits, but by the time you realize that there isn't one and that you have been lyrically stupefied, the song is al­ready over and you just have to go back one more time. Clever, eh?

Of the upbeat songs, the catchiest choruses and vibes are on ʽLive And Dieʼ and ʽI Never Knew Youʼ, and the best use of electric guitar is during the in-between verse interludes on ʽPretty Girl From Michiganʼ — but, other than that, I am at a complete loss trying to say something refresh­ing. Even these hooks, to tell the truth, do not stay around for very long, maybe because the feel­ings they generate are already so «Avettish» that they are unable to attach themselves to any fresh brain cells. But I do like the vibe anyway, and they still write lyrics that are just way too thought-provoking for the average country-western standard (ʽFebruary Sevenʼ).

The solitary dark horse of the album is ʽPaul Newman Vs. The Demonsʼ, a significantly darker (as already suggested by the title), louder, and less predictable tune than the rest. It is hardly any­thing like a Pink Floydian masterpiece of fear and paranoia (these guys lack the proper studio wi­zard­ry to brew that sort of sonic magic), but it is still a successful first foray into «darkness» by the Avetts, who usually prefer to converse with their angels rather than demons. Gritty bass, shrie­ky harmonies, guitar feedback, it all could have sounded like generic alt-rock in the end, but it doesn't because all of these things are used sparingly. Not that the song has much to do with Paul Newman, either, but nice of dear late Paul to provide such useful incentives even four years after his demise.

A traditional thumbs up out of respect for all the intelligence, professionalism, and sincerity, but that's about it: unfortunately, in three years The Avett Brothers have neither learned anything particu­larly interesting to enlighten us, nor whetted their songwriting instincts to the point where their emotions would burst out, rather than be distributed through the usual modest trickle. Or maybe I'm just too greedy — after all, the way I'd want things done just isn't the way they usually get done nowadays.

Check "The Carpenter" (CD) on Amazon
Check "The Carpenter" (MP3) on Amazon

2 comments:

  1. Great review as always, George. I haven't heard this album yet (hopefully soon though, The Avetts are my favourite modern band after all) but it's interesting that you seem to have the opposite my problem with it that most Avett fans seem to have. While you seem to wish for more progression from the Brothers, their die hard fans seem to mostly be decrying how much The Carpenter and I And Love and You are a departure from their classic Americana sound. And actually, based on what I have heard so far, I'm kind of with the die hards. I do think that the Avetts are some of the best songwriters around these days, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed to hear that the banjo features on a grand total of one of these tracks.

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  2. So, I finally got round to hearing this so I thought I would post a few of my own thoughts.

    I was kind of worried about this album as much of the reviews I had read - including, to a point, your own - painted it as a real disappointment. I'm pleased to report then that though I certainly miss the classic Avett's sound, I can't fault the songwriting here - and that alone makes it a success as far as I'm concerned.

    It's interesting that with I and Love and You and The Carpenter, The Avetts have gone some way to ensure that as a studio band, they're basically a straight up general pop/rock band rather than the punk-Americana group of the past. This would be more worrying if it weren't for the fact that this has essentially further delineated between the Avetts as a studio band and The Avetts as a live act.

    It's interesting that I am assimilating this album along with Four Thieves Gone, which means that I am getting the Avetts at their most "traditional" and The Avetts at their most "pop". Or, to put it another way, with Four Thieves I am enjoying the Avetts in the studio as they are live, whereas with The Carpenter, I am experiencing the band as they can and will only sound in the studio.

    Crucially though, it's not like Four Thieves completely outdoes The Carpenter on a basic songwriting level. The former is fresher, yes, but I think it's to their credit that the Avetts realized that youthfulness can only last so long and, though we're hardly talking about Bowie-levels of experimentation, they are willing to push themselves in new directions and somewhat differrent sounds.

    Still, I can't lie, I'm glad to hear that the Avetts of old are still out there doing their ass kicking Americana thing as a live act - even if the chances of my seeing them here in South Africa are about as good as yours are over in Russia.

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