The Avett Brothers have always held a broad spectrum of influences and inspirations within their music. Although each time they pull from their lives, crafting songs that reflect their own individual perspective, they scratch at the surface until personal details wash away. Soaking melodies with words that can feel representative of a greater, universal truth, the band’s stories -and sounds- have only continued to grow more far-reaching and vivid as the years and touring miles have accrued. But what makes their ninth studio album, True Sadness, differ so staunchly from everything that comes before it, is that they have never indulged the diversity of that sound with such a strong hand.
In an open letter to fans that was published on their website back in March, Seth Avett referred to the record as a “patchwork quilt,” before later writing, “Throughout the album, we stitched together the boldest red and the calmest green, polka dots and stripes, the roughest denim and the smoothest velveteen.” Yet over the course of twelve songs and fifty-one minutes, what remains most surprising isn’t the threading of those particular fabrics, but the tone of the composite work that it forms. Although instead of trying to ease into any change in pattern, Scott Avett, Seth Avett, Bob Crawford, Joe Kwon, Mike Marsh, Paul Defiglia and Tania Elizabeth encourage shifts that embolden each and every swerve. It’s a daring move that pays off more often than it doesn’t, making True Sadness feel more like a treasure trove than an album, honoring the full scope of their influences in their every sundry shade. But if there were one fragment that speaks to a larger lyrical focus, it would have to be the initial sting –and ultimate acceptance- of imperfection and uncertainty. Strongly felt in every stroke of color, it’s the one constant in a collection that sees the band return to the tranquil folk of their early work, even as they forge ahead sonically.
Focusing on the power of the unknown, “No Hard Feelings” is the first song on the record to most blatantly explore just how mystifying and tangled things can feel when you contemplate questions that can’t be answered. Although when pondering if he will feel ready to leave this Earth when the time comes, Seth Avett doesn’t sing each verse as much as he illustrates a series of imagined events. Over the soft notes of an acoustic guitar, he hints at the flaws we carry before hoping that at some point we can leave them all behind. Later on, he and his brother, Scott Avett, lament imperfection in a more lighthearted way on the rousing, satirical “Smithsonian.” Though the album’s mid-point marks the moment when they first leave the dirt roads for a whole other planet.
Feeling like a bloodline relative of the Beatles classic, “Helter Skelter,” “Satan Pulls The Strings” spews with foot stomping derangement. Howling “the devil’s in our feet” over a bass line that will move your speakers, the band’s vocalists are able to make each word feel like both a proud declaration and an agonizing plea for help. And while their live show has long contained flashes of the blistering rock they grew up with, “You Are Mine” and “Satan Pulls The Strings,” finds them crossing bodies of water that they had yet to previously explore on record. And whether they are awash in the bittersweet, gentle melody of “Fisher Road To Hollywood,” or experimenting with an energy that is completely different than anything they have released before, True Sadness proves that even after nine albums and sixteen years together, they are still finding new ways to dig into each particle of their DNA as a band.
Article: Caitlin Phillips