Avett Brothers Moralize, Criticize on “Closer Than Together”

Avett Brothers
Closer Than Together
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In a mission statement for Closer Than Together, Seth Avett insists he and sibling Scott “will probably never make a sociopolitical record.” 

“But if we did,” he adds, “it might sound something like this.” As men of morals and conscience, they can’t refrain from refracting the world through their musical lens, so they comment, freely, about guns, poverty, prejudice, America’s history of inhumanity. They moralize. They criticize. They decry and wonder why — sometimes dispensing with melody to speak outright, sometimes cramming comically insane syllable counts into single lines. And somehow, it works.

In “We Americans,” they atone and seek forgiveness, singing, “I am a son of Uncle Sam. And I struggle to understand/ the good and evil. But I’m doin’ the best I can/ in a place built on stolen land, with stolen people.” In “New Women’s World,” they express hope that women can fix the mess men have made. In “Bang, Bang,” they boldly declare, “If I never hear gunfire again, I’ll be fine.”

Musically, they tackle some new territory, unleashing raw musical aggression with the percussive rocker, “Bleeding White,” and minimizing banjo in favor of rich string and keyboard arrangements. Fortunately, they always come back to those closer-than-together harmonies, as on the gorgeous “Tell the Truth.” “When You Learn,” another classically beautiful Avetts ballad, is gentle and contemplative, with impeccable strings and a lovely piano and guitar interlude. The album closer, “It’s Raining Today,” is equally pretty. 

Of course, it’s not all guilt and melancholy. “C Sections and Railway Trestles” might be a whimsical kiddie song, except for lines like “Lucifer’s teeth introduced the epidural.” “Locked Up” carries groove and attitude — and a couplet only the Avetts would deliver: “I’m a booty shaker tired of twerkin’/ you can laugh all you want.”

Not all of it is easy listening, but all of it is worth hearing.

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