Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

ACL Explains It All: The Avett Brothers

May 21, 2009

So, this year is the first year I’m able to go to ACL, time and money-wise. This is exciting to me, because I love the idea of a festival (we’ll see if I still like the idea of a festival after the event). In preparation for this experience, I’m going through and listening to all the artists on Friday and Saturday that ACL has scheduled, and writing about them.

I’m calling the series ACL Explains It All because when I hear many of these bands, I think about things other than their music while I’m enjoying their music. Some artists I enjoy simply because of their notes and rhythms (I don’t care what Neutral Milk Hotel is saying), but most I enjoy because of the combination of their music, their lyrics, and their context. In short, I care about what it means in addition to how it sounds.

I chose the Avett Brothers first, because their latest release was called Emotionalism. That’s a pretty descriptive word to describe my feelings toward all music. All music must be emotional, otherwise it wouldn’t connect with us. This is why the term “emo” is such a bizarre name for a genre; I suppose emo artists mean that emotions take precedence over the lyrics, the music, and the performance, although each of them contribute to the emotion the listener takes away.  I know that those who hate emo use the term to stand for “whiny, immature emotion.” This is equally true.

But if a person is whiny, immature and loves feeling things, I guess this works for them. And the genre persists, cranking out emotionally damaged pieces.

This is what the Avett Brothers do, but because the Avett Brothers are in a more respected genre than pop-punk (alt-country), they’re able to get away with basically title an album Emo and being loved and admired for it. What the Avett Brothers do isn’t much more emotionally stable than Fall Out Boy’s work; “Pretty Girl from Chile” includes a message played off an answering machine by an ex-lover (which is totally a juvenile move). But as an interlude between a banjo/acoustic guitar duet and a section of furious rock, it passes.

In fact, I don’t know why anyone hates “emo,” because almost all the music we like has lyrics that talk about the same exact things that “emo” does.  And what we hate with a passion in Panic! At the Disco (pretentious, sissy dress-up and makeup), we love in Of Montreal (pretentious, sissy dress-up and makeup), and idolize in others (Robert Smith from the Cure, David Bowie). So basically, there is no legitimate reason to hate “emo” pop-punk whatsoever.

Even the music isn’t hateable under real terms. There’s a storied tradition of 90s punk that sounds almost exactly like current pop-punk, and Riverboat Gamblers still do stuff that’s just like it.

In short, if you like the Avett Brothers, Of Montreal, or anyone who sings about break-ups, there’s really no reason to hate emo. Why? Because you’re already listening to emo. You just don’t call it that.


Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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