I was bummed to miss FMBing last week, because last Tuesday marked one of the most anticipated events of the year for me: the release of The Avett Brothers’ new album I & Love & You.
I FMBd the Avetts almost two years ago, and my gushing then still applies. They play a brand of americana with bluegrass roots, pop hooks, and (live at least) a punk sensibility that’s unlike anything else going right now. Most bands struggle to write one or two those special songs you feel like you’ve known all your life the minute you hear them; the Avetts have dozens.
The new record — produced by the famed Rick Rubin, who called the boys out of the blue to offer his services — takes them in a somewhat different direction. It is far more produced and carefully arranged than their somewhat raggedy earlier work, and way cleaner than their raucus, messy live shows. In fact it’s almost chamber pop, pristine and gorgeous, foregrounding the piano over the banjo. Some long-time fans have grumbled about this, and I can certainly understand missing the low-fi back-porch vibe of their early albums, but with a result this exquisite, it’s hard to complain too much.
Warning: if you’re into the sort of disaffected irony or macho braggadocio that passes for pop culture these days, you might not care for the Avetts. Their keening harmonies and vulnerable lyrics will either bring a tear to your eye (and make your significant other snuggle up a little closer) or make you roll your eyes. For me, this is a band that’s personal like few bands ever have been. My kids know how to sing these songs; the Avetts might as well be our family band. They speak to a felt need to reconnect to what’s real, to find deeper currents of honest feeling in the shallow rapids of today’s virtual world. Also they’re fun to sing along with.
This song, “Laundry Room,” has a moment in it, at about 4:10, that gives me as much joy as anything I’ve heard in popular music this year. And check out the lyrics. It’s hard to convey just how rapturous this song is live. You really must see them if you get a chance.