Few contemporary folk bands have the following of the Avett Brothers. Their banjo-filled, lyrically-intricate songs have put this North Carolinian quintet in the same realm as Mumford and Sons in terms of recent popularity. Their last album, I and Love and You, landed the Avett Brothers a gig at the Grammys performing with Bob Dylan and Mumford and Sons. Continuing with their rising stardom, their new album, The Carpenter, released on September 11, made its way to number four on the Billboard Top 200.
The Avett Brothers’ older albums feature a rocky, raw edge especially with tracks like “I and Love and You” and “The Ballad of Love and Hate.” These tracks, even at their saddest and slowest, leave me energized. Whereas “I and Love and You” revs and excites, the new album’s tracks are more contemplative.
Carpenter is a breakup album that starts from a place of shatteredness. With tracks like “Winter in My Mind” and “I Never Knew You,” Seth and Scott seem to be crippled by love. The Brothers switch between feeling anger (“Live and Die” and “Pretty Girl From Michigan) and longing (“The Once and Future Carpenter”). These first songs are marked by slow drumbeats, lightly-played tambourines and strummed guitar, which are reminiscent of raw, Appalachian folk. As the album progresses, though, the broken pieces are glued back together. “A Father’s First Spring” is the first hopeful track, the album’s seasonal thaw. With the recovery comes more touches of alt rock. “Down With the Shine” drowns its sorrow in alcohol. It’s the kind of song you’d sing at a bar with your buddies. “Paul Newman vs. The Demons” has soaring electric guitar bridges that transcend sorrow. By album’s end, with tracks like “Life,” the Avett Brothers appear ready to move on. They’ve even learned a few words of wisdom about how to overcome sorrow: “Keep it, use it, build it, move it. . . . You and I know well enough about the paradise and hell right here on earth.”
The Avett Brothers’ lyrics have the same structure and style as past albums’. They love extended metaphors that end up in a different place than where they started. “And my life is but a coin, pulled from an empty pocket, dropped into a slot with dreams of sevens close behind,” they sing on “The Once and Future Carpenter.” The strategy allows for vivid images but also a kind of playfulness exhibited most often by wry novelists.
The Carpenter is a journey to take on a rainy day. Each song doesn’t uplift like the Avett Brothers’ other works. It’s an album that soothes when you’re down in the dumps. Long-time Avett Brother fans may, at times, enjoy the new aesthetic, though others will lament the loss of the old sound. New listeners may not enjoy for the album’s slowness. But, with the right mood and some patience, you can be truly moved.