Review Summary: An album in which the words matter.
There’s a basic concept in economics called diminishing marginal utility, and it refers to the declining satisfaction of a consumer with every successive purchase of the same product. In other words, the first time you eat at your favorite restaurant should be better than the tenth time, and so on until you either grow weary of it or settle into a state of equilibrium. I believe the same concept holds true with music – for me, nothing will ever compare to the first time I heard The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
in its entirety, or when The Seer
swept every other 2012 release under the rug with its droning, apocalyptic soundscape. I’ve heard both of those albums more times than I could possibly remember, but the moments that stand out in my mind are when I first experienced them. The theory never fails. However, if there is one attribute that can severely hinder the diminishing value of music, it’s the lyrics
. Nothing gives a song more replay value than words to relate it to, and in turn, memories to associate it with.
I’m going to try not to give the stereotypical elder rant of “music was better back in my day” (especially since I’m only 26) but I would be remiss if I didn’t notice the recent downgrade in lyrics. Even bands that acknowledge their work as “thinking man’s” music or some similar grade A bull*** don’t stack up against the indie titans of the early 2000s, which in turn pale in comparison to some of the most brilliant musical minds of the 90s. There are exceptions abound, of course, but the general outlook for the year 2050 projects “Yea, yeah, you da sexy mamma wit dat twerkin ass” to be the thought provoking passage of the decade. Thank God we’ll always have I and Love and You
, which is hardly as cheesy as it sounds, to remind us how dynamic even a simple ballad can be when paired with gifted lyricism.
If you’re anything like me, you may have dismissed The Avett Brothers a long time ago as a folk band with a little too much country twang to relate to. Although that description is admittedly shortsighted, it’s a conclusion that I’ve found several other listeners have come to as well. However, there are a few issues with that observation. First of all, it’s wrong – unless you’re talking about their very earliest releases. Even then, it was at worst a fifty-fifty blend of folk and country. I and Love and You
ushers in a new era for The Avett Brothers, one that sees them take on a decidedly slower and more melodic sound. Both of these traits err on the side of indie-folk, and that’s exactly what we get here with the band’s fifth and best full length album.
I and Love and You
is a lyrical tour de force, with poignant lines hidden in every single song that are emotionally potent enough to make it seem as though most other artists are merely going through the motions when they put pen to paper. The opening title track is brimming with sorrow - a soulful, bluesy ode to leaving home. ‘Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in…are you aware the shape I’m in’ croons Seth Avett, before creating a metaphor comparing a highway to ‘a traveler’s stage.’ It’s the perfect ballad for almost any wistful moment, conjuring up sadness, love, and hope all at the same time. I should also mention that it takes a certain degree of confidence in your work to start off an album with a song this slow to progress, but The Avett Brother pull it off brilliantly – and back it up with more phenomenal songs to follow.
It may sound entirely cliché, but there really is a song for everyone on this album. “January Wedding” is the go-to romantic song, with profoundly simple observations about the effortlessness of true love: ‘she keeps it simple and I am thankful for her kind of lovin’…cause it’s simple.' To a background serenade of mandolins and banjos, you’ll almost be able to feel the weightlessness of Avett’s love for this woman. ‘Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise” is easily the most thought-provoking track, penning lines such as ‘if you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected’, as well as ‘decide what to be and go be it’ overtop of a swelling string section. As with most of the songs on I and Love and You
, it pairs unprecedented straightforwardness with unparalleled insight – and when the band already has such an established level of musical talent and integrity, it makes every song damn near irresistible. “Ten Thousand Words” is another clear highlight, featuring crystal clear acoustic guitars whilst making the observation ‘Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different. We love to talk on things we don’t know about.’ Even for those who eventually tire of the album’s plodding, ballad-heavy stride, there’s tracks like “Kick Drum Heart” near the center of the tracklist to give listeners a refreshing, carefree change of pace. The Avett Brothers have crafted many exceptional albums, but this may be the first that is indisputably listenable
from start to finish – which is meant to be neither a compliment nor a detractor, but merely a fact. The vast majority of listeners will find every track pleasurable without feeling the desire to skip around. No matter how you look at it, that is a rare trait in today’s era of music
I could go on for several more paragraphs extolling the virtues of I and Love and You
, but instead I’ll leave you with this general advice: when you feel like music is failing you – becoming muddled, blurry, and all the same – give this album a listen. The power of the lyrics alone will rekindle your passion for musicians with – well, passion
. Often it is taken for granted that artists make music that is important to them, but The Avett Brothers are one band for which that will always be true. I don’t need to know them personally to make such declarations; it’s all right there in the music...and equally as importantly, in the words
. And if I’m wrong about all of this, well I’m no different. I love to talk on things I don’t know about.