Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Very First Impressions: "Magpie and the Dandelion" - The Avett Brothers

NPR began streaming the new Avett Brothers album Magpie and the Dandelion last night. So, of course, I listened to it and decided to jot down some first impressions. Some...ahem....ramblings, if you will. (Warning: The Avetts are one of those bands I have been emotionally attached to/connected with for quite some time. They are one of my favorite bands; I'm talking about all times. Therefore, I am biased. It is sometimes hard for me to be critical of them, especially regarding a new album that I am expecting to be awesome [as I anticipate all of their new material to be]. I just wanted to make that clear up front.) Enjoy the ramblings.

Open Ended Life
Album starts much differently than the acoustic stylings of The Carpenter's first track. Uptempo. Banjo, piano, even a little harmonica. And yes, DRUMS, for all the haters (OMG a folk rock band added DRUMS! Blasphemy!) Central lyric: "I was taught to keep an open ended life, and never trap myself in nothin'." Nice little hoedown about midway through. I am completely digging this. Sounded like a fiddle solo at the end there. What a fantastic way to start things off.

Morning Song
Very warm vocal here from Scott. The damn harmonies on this song are beautiful, as are the lyrics. I don't particularly like the absence of banjo, but I am also a mature adult and will get over it. I dig the understated gospel-choir-esque vocals at the end. Do I like the YouTube version they did with Esquire more? Sure. But this song is still one of the best they've written.

Never Been Alive
I'm getting a Pink Floyd vibe at the start. Back in the days when I smoked weed I definitely would have been listening to this song and getting all existential.

Another Is Waiting
Quick transition into the album's lead single. I completely dig this song and wish it would blow up. I read where someone compared it to Green Day with a banjo, as if that was supposed to be a disparaging comment. I don't necessarily agree, but I wonder if that person realizes Green Day has some amazingly hooky and good pop-punk songs in their catalog. If you think that the Avetts crafty catchy pop hooks is them selling out, you, sir, need to go back and listen to "At the Beach," "Will You Return," "Jenny and the Summer Day," "Matrimony," etc etc etc.

Bring Your Love To Me
"Bring your love to me, I will hold it like a newborn child." Seth takes lead. Old-schoolers will be happy to hear some sweet banjo flourishes. Excellent acoustic guitar work as well. Totally chill and laid back tune. "Bring your love to me, I will hold it like a dandelion, one I want to save, one I want to keep from the breeze that follows me and no one else." This might be an early favorite.

Good To You
Piano introduction, Scott takes lead. Very simple song; mostly just piano and Joe Kwon's cello. AWESOME: Bob Crawford takes a verse, quite powerful in light of his daughter's recent battle with cancer. (Bob sings one of my favorite Avett songs, "40 East," from Four Thieves Gone.)

Apart From Me
"I was scared but couldn't admit it." Somewhat cold and resigned yet intimate vocal from Scott. Very personal song it sounds like (aren't they all?). Certainly would not feel out of place on a Gleam album. Contains some excellent acoustic picking, from Seth I assume. "The banker lived, the artist died." Believe this might be another early favorite.

Skin and Bones
I've purposefully avoided the versions of this song that have been circulating on the interwebs for a few years. I knew it'd hit an album at some point. Midtempo, heavy dosage of banjo. Scott and Seth trade off vocals. "I built the fence, I hung the sign, blood red letters sayin' 'Keep in mind where we've been, so don't come in.' But how long can we live in shame, and drop a life long curse on our own last name." Well. Shit.

Souls Like the Wheels
I've been wondering whether this would be the same version from The Second Gleam. It is not. It is a live version. It is still an amazing song. Seth sounds young as hell here. Interested to find out what year this was recorded. Also the crowd sounds very sparse. Would bet that this was quite a few years ago. I am, however, most definitely probably wrong...and the large, loud applause at the end corroborates that.. I don't have a problem with its inclusion, but I wonder what the reasoning was behind putting it on Magpie. Maybe Seth's not younger here and it was just an emotional night/performance, because there's certainly an element of frailty to his singing on this.

Awesome almost-scream from Seth on "I've got love pouring out of my veins." Some major dissonance about midway through that leads into some distorted electric guitar soloing. Pretty badass. If you saw their performance of this on Fallon (with Chris Cornell), you know they will go insane on this one live.

The Clearness Is Gone
I've heard this song exactly one time. I believe it was included as a bonus vinyl single or b-side with the pre-order packages for The Carpenter. So glad they included because it's great. Sweet, sweet bass line running through. "I will seek the approval of no one but you." Has sort of a 70s classic rock vibe to it. Ends abruptly without much "resolution," thus ending the album the same. Great way to end what for the most part is a very somber and low key album.

In a nutshell:
Simply more of the good, heartfelt stuff folks have come to expect from The Avett Brothers. If there's one consistent theme woven within the Avetts catalog lyrically, it's: the want, the need, the hope to be a better man. They always express that desire honestly, though, never shying away from the darkness, failure, even self-detestation that can accompany that striving. The same can be said for Magpie, perhaps even more so than some previous albums; it contains some dark truths. But, of course, there are those glimmers, sometimes rays, of idealistic hope. The album has some truly outstanding tracks, and I can't wait to listen again with lyrics in front of me (will also be interesting to hear the demos of a few songs that are included on the special edition). Musically, the brothers really seem to have come into their own with Rubin as producer. It contains a bit more musical understatement. Do I wish there was more banjo? Sure. (Still, there's banjo on at least half these tracks.) As stated before, I don't mind the drums at all (hell, I used to be a drummer myself), but do I wish their drummer would do something a little more creative than simply keep the basic beat in the background? Sure. To me, these are minor quibbles; to others, they are dealbreakers. At this point it doesn't matter, for those arguments are outdated. In an interview a couple months ago, Scott alluded to the fact that the band might be getting bored. I'm not sure what to make of that in light of Magpie, because they certainly do not sound bored on this album (however, these songs were recorded during The Carpenter sessions, while the interview was just this past summer, so something could have transpired; who knows?). Do I hope they work with a different producer than Rick Rubin for their next album? Yes. Let the bearded musical Buddha live the rest of his years high on his couch while Kanye and Jay-Z make albums in his studio. If this is indeed the Avetts' last go 'round with Rubin, Magpie and the Dandelion is a hell of an album to go out on.

To close, enjoy Scott Avett singing the classic folk tune "Froggy Went A-Courtin'"


  1. Is that Jessica Mayfield in backup vocals on "Apart from Me"? This album has a "Gleam II" feel to it. As that is my fave Avett Brothers album, I'm digging this. Best Avett album in years.

    1. I'm not sure if it's her or not, but it very well could be. Yea, I noticed a lot of these songs have a Gleam vibe too, which is great, and not what I was expecting.


  2. See you less than a week,