The Avett Brothers: “I & Love & You”

It’s been two and a half years since alternative/country band the Avett Brothers last released a full LP. Anticipation for their most recent album has been mounting ever since. The band has been identified by countless reviewers and critics as the “next big thing in music,” and Spin magazine declared that “they [won’t] be under the radar for long.” Released on Tuesday, their latest album titled “I & Love & You,” has them poised to finally take on the mainstream music scene. They brought in producer Rick Rubin, which led them to an entirely new sound. Rubin is most commonly known for producing artists such as Green Day, U2 and Justin Timberlake and founding founded Def Jam Records with Russell Simmons. Before the Avett Brothers, the closest thing he’d come to country music was producing the Dixie Chicks, so this new experiment was sure to be interesting. Surprisingly enough, the new album does not have the thumping bass lines or energetic drum lines that you would expect from Rubin’s productions, and although the band’s music originally consists mostly of banjo-intense bluegrass, this new album features only one song with significant banjo playing. Instead, the new album places emphasis on sounds from the piano and thoughtful lyrics. The opening track, “I & Love & You,” is almost entirely composed of piano. Compared to their previous work, this is a complete overhaul. But don’t let the first song fool you, as the next few songs revert back to the Avett’s old style, particularly “January Wedding.” The best songs on the album, though, are the ones that do not stick with the band’s old style. “Slight Figure of Speech” is my personal favorite, and it features the electric guitar, an instrument totally new to the band. Their foray into more conventional rock instruments indicates the band’s commitment to going mainstream. “Kick Drum Heart,” the seventh song on the album, also caught my ear the first time through. The live version of this song had been circulating on YouTube for months before the album was released. But the album version surprised me, as it sounded more like the Charlie Brown theme song than the amazing live version I had listened to constantly over the summer. The song became more polished and less loose and fun. The new album is lacking the grittiness, the rawness and the imperfections of the band’s past work. Old albums from the Avett Brothers, especially “Four Thieves Gone,” had voice cracks and off-tempo drumming. This rough sound allowed the band’s talent to show itself for what it actually was: certainly not perfect, but raw and emotive. Even the band’s last album, “Emotionalism,” had a broken note or two. But “I & Love & You” is seemingly perfect, with every note hit right on tune and guitar strummed with the beat. Their new sound is great, but by bringing in Rick Rubin and signing to a new label, they lost a lot of their endearing flaws. They’re no longer screaming their lungs out on certain songs, as they frequently did before. Now, apparently, that act is only for their live shows. Overall though, I was very impressed by the new album. Certain songs were so catchy on first listen that I can’t see this band not going mainstream. Though they lost a lot of their old grittiness, their slick new sound will certainly garner them a larger fanbase and a greater stage to perform their amazing music on.