North Carolina roots trio takes a transcendent stand against postmodern emptiness
In the late ’60s, The Band’s earnest roots rock helped topple nonsensical hippie credos like, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Similarly, The Avett Brothers—still unjaded after half a decade in the music business—do their best to combat modern-day hipster detachment and pseudo-coolness with Emotionalism’s simple, poetic story-songs and bittersweet, introspective laments. The album—down to the title itself—is a celebration of unselfconscious passion. It’s also a huge step forward musically: The relative sonic polish works magically in contrast to the Avetts’ jagged edge; they go beyond their core of acoustic guitar, banjo and upright bass (a change foreshadowed by Four Thieves Gone’s “Colorshow”), adding piano, B3, drums, electric guitar and mandolin; the vocals feel more carefully arranged, relying less on energetic screams and shouts and giving the melodies room to breathe; and the influences peeking through are more varied than ever, the music sporadically reminiscent of everything from Help!-era Beatles to Chopin nocturnes. The Avetts, long deemed “promising” by critics, are now unflinchingly—unguardedly—delivering on that promise.