theavettbrothers_LEAD

For The Avett Brothers ninth record, they again enlisted the polarizing but eclectic super producer Rick Rubin. They stick to fairly straightforward subject matter, from spirituals to breakups, coming to grips with death to boozy partying; from being a wild child at the whims of Satan to being a stay-at-home family man. But, they paint these pictures with a variety of added influences to their usual folksy Americana, including hints of stadium EDM, indie electronic music and heavy stoner-rock. It’s strangely accessible and, occasionally, poignantly dark.

Ain’t no Man

The “We Will Rock You” stomp-and-clap rhythm gets the gospel treatment as the boys spout some uplifting appeals to a higher power. It’s quite catchy, but stops short of the cheesiness seen from others in the genre. Yet, all they needed to make it happen was several harmonies, that boom-clap, and a bass guitar:

Ain't No Man

Mama I Don’t Believe

Disappointment over broken promises, lost “fortune,” and other bummers are covered here, although the more specific message (or how it relates to the Avetts’ personal lives) is murky. The pseudo-power ballad approach fits, though, and it’s yet another prime example of the boys having quite a way with melodic hooks:

Mama I Don't Believe

No Hard Feelings

With a shuffling, 12/8 ballad, Seth and Scott face their mortality “with no hard feelings,” knowing that these things are out of their control. That, and they also realize petty “jealousy” and other negative emotions haven’t “done much good for anyone” and need to be let go. Folk fans can debate its originality (or if that matters), but for any casual, it’s a pleasant sunny afternoon listen:

No Hard Feelings

Smithsonian

Murphy’s Law meets sarcasm as the bros feign shock over life’s little annoyances, like the fact “Life ain’t forever and lunch isn’t free.” The lyrics would work equally well with mainstream country audiences and a radio-rock sound, too; they even strip away the music to put the best self-deprecating lines un-obscured, ready to be sung by amphitheater audiences:

Smithsonian

You Are Mine

More ‘love conquers’ stuff here, but with far more production flourishes than have been seen in previous tracks. Cosmic psychedelic bleeps, some EDM claps, and generally ‘whooshing’ sound effects fill out the track, but it feels at least slightly out of character. Rick Rubin really knows how to cultivate a love-hate relationship with listeners:

You Are Mine

Satan Pulls the Strings

The lead single takes the previous track’s production experimentation further, but it works wonders. Carnivalesque synth bass and a heavy bounce make this one boisterous jam with crossover appeal. Unsurprisingly, it’s also the track where the boys let down their hair, get wild, and let “Satan pull the strings:”

Satan Pulls the Strings

True Sadness

While this one focuses largely on the “true sadness” that “no one is fine,” really. But, even more so it reminds us of the immense support our loved ones provide in crises. There are verses on sexual exploitation, alcohol abuse, and more, but the common thread is always that friend who gets you through the dark times:

True Sadness

I Wish I Was

Unrequited love takes on several metaphors, from candle flames to sweaters. It’s a pretty standard boom-chuck ballad driven by Scott’s banjo, so there isn’t much to offer casual fans in terms of sonic freshness, but the sound does showcase the lyrics. Either way, it sounds like the love isn’t unrequited anymore by the end of the track:

I Wish I Was

Fisher Road to Hollywood

The “aw shucks” mentality has been a common theme throughout this album, but it peaks a little more militantly here. The Avetts lament their colleagues’ glamorously hedonistic, Hollywood lifestyles of “cocaine and codeine;” they’d rather stay in with their loved ones and chill with some tamer “apple wine.” Of course, they still depend on “Hollywood” for their career, but not without some disdain:

Fisher Road to Hollywood

Victims of Life

This Latinspired track might be skewering our “victim” society, or it could just be a warning to not let yourself be taken down by anything. Either way, it’s got a feel-good groove going which gives its perseverance theme a carefree attitude. It’s simple, straightforward, but not going to set the world alight. However, it makes for a more refreshing hammock track than, say, Jack Johnson:

Victims of Life

Divorce Separation Blues

Though both the bros are (presumably) happily married, they take on divorce here. In typical Americana fashion, it sounds almost a little hokey in its cheekiness, especially during the chorus’ yodeling. It also doesn’t seem to hold any real-world specifics as much as just fit the bill for marital splits in general. Anyway, it’d fit your local radio’s alternative country show:

Divorce Separation Blues

May it Last

Nautical metaphors pepper the will to “forge ahead” through a haunted past, thanks to the inspiration from loved ones. The psychedelic, space-rock chorus is a slight surprise when the track is taken by itself, but makes sense in the scope of the album. Extra bonus points for using strings without them being an overwrought signifier for emotion:

May it Last