Avett Brothers have typical sound
Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 23:10
The phrase “indie music” used to have a more concrete meaning. In the 1980s, it was used to describe albums that were relatively low budget and self-created, but nowadays people seldom think of indie music as independent productions. Instead, indie has gradually morphed into an increasingly nebulous subgenre within the equally poorly defined category called “alternative music.” As the definition of what exactly constituted as indie gradually expanded, the perception of the genre as a whole has shifted from “niche bands only hipsters listen to” to “half of the music on Spotify.”
Normally, the expansion of a genre’s fan base isn’t something to complain about, but this expansion unfortunately correlates with a gradual decline in the quality of some bands as they attempt to make their music more marketable.
The Avett Brothers’ new album “Magpie and the Dandelion” unfortunately represents the successful culmination of such an attempt. After the release of four albums that were largely ignored, the band’s fifth album “Emotionalism” achieved mainstream acclaim and drew the attention of producer Rick Rubin, who collaborated with the band for their next three albums.
At the same time, the Avett Brothers’ music slowly developed more of a mainstream sound. The first album produced by Rubin, “I and Love and You,” retained a lot of their previous deeper and darker themes while polishing their instrumentals, and “The Carpenter,” released in 2012, had a more distinct pop feel but was in many ways a throwback to their previous albums.
“Magpie and the Dandelion” completed the tonal shift of the band’s music. The songs are ballads, the instrumentals are polished and the lyrics are neat to the point of triteness. The fifth song, “Bring Your Love to Me,” is particularly egregious in this area: the singer makes cloying comparisons beginning with “bring your love to me/I will hold it like a newborn child” and does not stop until the song is over. The album’s increased bluegrass influence hardly helps matters, as the country twang and soaring banjo solos only exacerbates the banality of the lyrics. When one considers these faults in conjunction with the increased prominence of drums in songs like “Open Ended Life” and “Another is Waiting,” it almost feels as if “Magpie and the Dandelion” was another Mumford and Sons album.
Thankfully, the songs aren’t all entirely terrible. The last three stand out as more similar to the band’s earlier, superior music. “Vanity” in particular brings back some of the darker themes in previous albums; though it is a short song, its repetition of slightly grotesque imagery highlights the song’s disturbing themes. It is clear that the Avett Brothers have not really lost their skills in songwriting, and a desire to shift their musical style is completely understandable. However, it is clear that they need more time to craft truly excellent music instead of the commercialized and saccharine product that is “Magpie and the Dandelion.”