The Jonas Brothers Avett Brothers, release their new album today!
For years now the Avett Brothers have been playing their genre-smashing raw, unpolished, foot stompin’, banjo ringin’, background screamin’, dynamic and unpolished brand of tunes. For those of us who have followed the Avett’s for a few years now we have witnessed their progress with each record release; transforming from pitchy vocals, out of tune guitars, intentional lo-fi recording quality – to learning to properly play their instruments, nailing down Beatles’-esque harmonies that rival the Louvin’s and the Stanley’s, all delivered via a live show that gives you more chills than a tight squeeze and slight breeze. Sure, when I heard that the “great” Rick Rubin (surely some would scoff while some would agree) snatched these Carolina boys up from their former indie label home of Ramseur Records, as they were to become his next project, I was torn. On the one hand, I was pleased that these hard working and well deserving musicians were gearing up to be catapulted into “success”, but on the other I didn’t want Rubin to try to fix what wasn’t broken.
I was excited for a long time prior to the release of this record and was especially excited for the greatest music perk a music writer has, that is, receiving a copy of the album about a month or two before its release from the band’s label. Well, I waited, and waited, but that majestic package never arrived in my mailbox. So I shot an email off to the publicist with an inquiry as to when I could expect the promo, but to my disappointment I was told that no promos where being sent out, and that only a few select music websites and magazines would be receiving a streaming version of the album. Those who did receive the streaming link we were required to promise “not write anything until the album comes out.” I thought that was kind of weird – and of course was frustrated as they seemingly had decided that I, as a critic, could do them only harm. I then started to notice a few other oddities that didn’t make sense either; I noticed that it was very difficult to get a pre-release interview with band. In true fashion of a well-prepared writer, I began my research on the band. I had posted on the band’s website a post asking for some juicy stuff on the Brothers and some good questions and subjects (who better to ask than the message board fans, eh?); this posting was my demise. It turns out that my going on the band’s website asking for “juicy” questions resulted in me being labeled as “unprofessional” by their manager, and as a result I would not be granted an interview. Again, I thought this was kind of weird (side note – Barbara Walters, if you’re reading this – I’m sorry but you are going to only be able to talk about how handsome your interviewees’ are, how honest and hard working they are, and how they are intrinsically good people. So don’t you dare ask around about Michael Jackson’s doctor and his quick prescription pen should you land an interview as that is not professional and that is not what the people want to hear about!). Then I noticed the marketing team for the Avetts (whom I swear don’t sleep as they are always doing their marketing), began pushing a huge pre-sale of some sort of “Deluxe box edition” of “I & Love & You” that includes the record, some pieces or art, a bandana (and maybe removable tattoos and coffee mugs) and some other brick-a-brack. In regards to this $80 dollar deluxe box edition of their first major release, again, I thought “Hmmmm.” I guess all this just indicates that these guys are now majorly on a major label. But you know what, who gives a shit if they’re on a major, I don’t care that I had an easier time interviewing Lady GaGa, and that is because it is the music that matters!
Ahh yes the music, the reason why we are all here. So let us finally discuss “I & Love & You” and the songs that it boasts now that my biases and background has been explained. Prior to the release, the super-fan that I am, I collected and archived 6 of the 13 songs that were to be on the album form various YouTube postings. And man O’ man, they were good, no great songs! Banjo blasting my face off, guitar town USA, screaming backup vocals, and very dynamic – all in the traditional Avett Brothers fashion. I was sure that Rubin couldn’t alter these jams (in a negative way) too much, because these songs were set and had the Avett Brothers sound and style all over the place. After I had grown accustomed to these songs, their energy, and their arrangements the time had now come for me to listen to the streaming and hear what changes were made and what the other seven songs sounded like. After convincing the publicist to send me a link to the stream I put on my head phones, closed my eyes, sat back and it was there that I began my journey to the land of “O shit man, what happened to these guys!?”.
Ok, that might seem a little harsh, so allow me to clarify. The songs are absolutely brilliant, the recording is crisp, and it’s a really good alternative rock album. So for the masses who are unfamiliar with the Brothers’ previous work this album will become an instant favorite. But for those of us who were familiar with the brothers of old it really is quite deflating, not many of us are alternative rock fans. These songs are so polished down, the raspy vocals and rattley instrumentation have all been mopped up and the raw energy is missing. The former banjo and guitar driven songs have been pushed aside to make room for more piano than a Liberachi tribute festival. As for the banjo, a signature mark of the Avett Brothers sound, it only shows up for 2 songs (and one of the songs is only used for the last 20 seconds or so).
I don’t know who is to blame, or praise, for this change; regardless if it’s the Avetts or Rubin, I still foresee the Avetts becoming a household name. Once we had the Brothers covering Woody Guthrie, Bob Willis, and Townes Van Zandt, and now I don’t think those songs will fly to their audience that will no doubt be comprised of thousands of screaming 13 year old girls, hooded frat brothers, and first dates. I foresee the Avetts being clumped in with the likes of The Fray and Ben Folds, and wouldn’t be surprised if one of these songs made its way on to a Drew Barrymore movie during some sort of New York City lovers montage right before the credits roll. I’m not saying this is bad, I’m just saying it’s different and not how I expected these boys to become famous. Most people will say something to the effect of “Yeah, I know the album is pretty ‘radio-friendly’ and low-key, but it has always been the live shows where you really are going to be able to experience the energy and passion of the Avett Brothers”, and I would tend to agree, but the problem there is that you can only experience the live show if you can find enough money to purchase your thousand dollar tickets before they sell out Madison Square Garden in twelve seconds, and then have some money left over for binoculars.
“I & Love & You” is a brilliant record, it will for sure be a hit to fans old and new alike, it will make them no small amount of money, and will for sure be on my personal top 5 albums of the year; but in terms of musical letdowns – it is the biggest one I’ve had in 10 years. There was a time that I loved the Avett Brothers and I felt connected with them and like I was a part of what they did, if they had a cult I would have been like the chief evangelist and spokeperson for them, but with the release of “I & Love & You” I think I am growing luke-warm and might even slip in my commitments (I heard that Elliott Brood has a good one coming out, I think I’ll have to check it out). Well I’m off to watch the Avett Brothers perform on David Letterman, I wonder if the Jonas Brothers will come out and do like a dual brother combo, that would be pretty cool if Rick Rubin could hook that up!