Avett Brothers New Album Confronts America’s Challenging History
Closer Than Together, The Avett Brothers forthcoming album that drops on October 4th, is perhaps the most politically outspoken of their catalog. Historically writing songs dealing with personal life events and introspection, this album breaks new ground for the band.
Opening with “Bleeding White,” the Avett Brothers sonically as well as thematically distance themselves from their catalog. With heavier bass and electric guitar, the opening track causes the listener to take a sonic double-take to confirm this is indeed the same band.
Following tracks like “Tell the Truth,” “Long Story Short,” and “C Sections and Railway Trestles” put the band back on firmer historical ground. “Long Story Short” is a narrative describing the blue-collar lives of several intertwined characters. Other songs touch on topics such as new parenthood.
Many tracks check the boxes for what is politically relevant or trending today. Perhaps the most overt is “We Americans.” Touching on the “open wounds” of what it means to be American, the song describes the contradictions inherent in feeling patriotic for a county with a dark past. With only a guitar as soft accompaniment, Seth and Scott alternate singing: “I am a son of Uncle Sam, and I struggle to understand / The good and evil / But I’m doing the best I can / In a place built on stolen land / With stolen people.”
The song hits particularly hard with the line “blood on the table with the coffee and the sugar,” repeating it several times. In the last verse, it changes pace, repeating “love in our hearts, with the pain in the memory.” The song succeeds in emphasizing the intricacies, complications, and hypocrisies of being American, and particularly the Avett Brothers personal relationship to the political.
Other songs on the album continue in this same vein. “Bang Bang” touches on the ubiquitousness of guns in America, but is a bit reductive, attributing the omnipresence of weapons to what we see in movies. However, with lines like “Conceal and carry your fear / Don’t need no weapons here,” the song is sobering, examining gun violence in, specifically, the Avett Brothers community (“I live in the country because I love peace and quiet / But all of my neighbors have closets full of machine guns.”)
Finally, the song “New Woman’s World” describes a scenario where the world is left is in the hands of women. With lines like “It used to be a man’s world / but we didn’t treat it right / It used to be a man’s world / But all we did is fight,” Scott and Seth paint a joyful scene where the world is now envisioned in the hands of women. While one can appreciate this point of view, it is perhaps oversimplifying. When women, particularly poor women and women of color, are still struggling for reproductive freedom and equal pay, are we really in a “New Woman’s World?” One of the lines, “We couldn’t seem to reach the grace that’s born in every girl,” feels particularly diminutive. Not all women are the paragons they describe, and in fact, are as complicated and as multifaceted as men.
Overall, this album is sonically in the same vein with the Avett Brothers catalog, while also breaking new lyrical ground. In the mission statement proceeding the album, Seth Avett writes, “We didn’t make a record that was meant to comment on the sociopolitical landscape that we live in. We did, however, make an album that is obviously informed by what is happening now on a grander scale all around us.” It is challenging to separate the personal from the political, and in this album, the Avett Brothers do no such thing. While in the past the Avett Brothers have remained bipartisan, in Closer Than Together they take a side.