Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Musical Surgery: Four Thieves Gone by the Avett Brothers

The Avett Bros: Four Thieves Gone

Some would say Four Thieves Gone was the last hurrah for the early-era Avett Brothers; that is, the unhinged, sweaty, hollering purveyors of punk-grass beloved in bars and tiny rock clubs throughout the southeast. The next year, they'd deliver Emotionalism, the band's finest album to date, but one far more polished and reined-in than anything we'd heard before. This trend would continue in a big way with 2009's I and Love and You, their major label debut.

But Four Thieves Gone, like its predecessors, was self-recorded, loose, and gritty. And like its predecessors, it was longer than it should have been. The Avetts are immensely talented songwriters, but their albums have a tendency to wander and Four Thieves Gone is no exception.

Were I tasked with editing it, I would hardly touch the first half. But towards the end, it's burdened by throwaways and an anticlimactic finale in the form of the forgettable titular tune and some needless hidden tracks. Look, it's a 17-song album even without the hidden stuff. It's hard to argue that some addition by subtraction wouldn't have done wonders for the Avetts in this case. Let's take a look:

The Track List:
  1. "Talk on Indolence" - No question; perhaps the Avetts' flaghsip song
  2. "Pretty Girl from Feltre" - I love the song, but I'm sort of torn on keeping it. I think "Colorshow" would do a better job at maintaining the pace of the album, but "Feltre" is one of the band's more striking, subtle compositions. Let's keep it.
  3. "Colorshow" - Another surefire keeper.
  4. "Distraction #74" - And another.
  5. "Sixteen in July" - Keeping it, but I'd swap it with "Distraction" to allow for the mind to settle a bit after the stormy finale of "Colorshow".
  6. "Left on Laura, Left on Lisa" - No doubt, keeper.
  7. "A Lover Like You" - It pains me to say that I'd lose this one, and in no way is it due to the song's quality, or any lack of it. It's an excellent mid-tempo love song; but I feel like it's too much of a thematic deviation amidst the "Left On Laura", "Pretend Love", and "Matrimony". It would have carried over nicely to Emotionalism.
  8. "Pretend Love" - Keeping this scathing little beauty.
  9. "Matrimony" - Definite keeper.
  10. "The Lowering: A Sad Day in Greenville Town" - Closing out the mid-album arc of pained post-relationship songs, it's not going anywhere.
  11. "The Fall" - A much-needed upper at this point; keeping it.
  12. "Dancing Daze" - I'd lose "Dancing Daze" in a heartbeat, due in no small part to the guest vocals by Paleface.
  13. "Famous Flower of Manhattan" - Keeping it. I think it's a perfect penultimate track, the last ballad before the rousing conclusion.
  14. "40 East" - I really like "40 East", but I think I would have saved it for an EP, or a future album.
  15. "Gimmeakiss" - I'd lose it; just a little too sloppy and haphazard for its own good.
  16. "Denouncing November Blue (Uneasy Writer)" - This should have been the album closer, which means...
  17. "Four Thieves Gone" - One more gone...one more gone...
  18. "The Fall" (hidden track) - I'd lose both the hidden tracks.
  19. "Honeycutt" (hidden track) - See above.
HSW's Amended List:
  1. "Talk on Indolence"
  2. "Pretty Girl From Feltre"
  3. "Colorshow"
  4. "Sixteen In July"
  5. "Distraction #74"
  6. "Left On Laura, Left on Lisa"
  7. "Pretend Love"
  8. "Matrimony"
  9. "The Lowering"
  10. "The Fall"
  11. "Famous Flower of Manhattan"
  12. "Denouncing November Blue"
Here we have a dozen strong tunes, attacking the topic of post-relationship reflection in a variety of styles: Angsty, profound, bitter, tongue-in-cheek, wily. It'd be at least 15 minutes shorter, too. Of course, such a makeover would disrupt the carefree vibe of the album, which is part of the reason it's so beloved by core fanbase in the first place. While I maintain that the above would have yielded a better album experience, I guess it's worth considering: Do we want an Avett Brothers album that would omit a song like "Dancing Daze" because it's too clunky and wild? If so, then they released an album last year that you might be interested in.

Up next: Every mule could use some variation...

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