The Gleam is the name given to a series of EPs released by The Avett Brothers over the years — the most recent emerged in 2008 — and this third edition comes hot on the heels of 2019’s Closer Than Together. Like that full-length, The Gleam III concerns itself with the personal and political. Yet here, the band is stripped back to its roots as a trio — brothers Seth and Scott Avett and bassist Bob Crawford — and the Avetts speak softly and sing plainly of a discouraged heart in a defective world.
“Victory” opens the eight-song album with head bowed and hands raised. “From victory, I tried / To match eternal light with how I live my life / Of course, I was forced to retreat / From victory, I accept defeat.” The created-versus-Creator reflection at work here establishes this EP’s posture from the outset, and the Avetts maintain the stance throughout these straightforward acoustic arrangements.
“Untitled #4” rides the repeated line, “I am happier with nothing,” the listener uncertain whether it’s a pleasant realization or a personal aim — a drilled-in religious mantra. Interestingly, the very next song, “I Go To My Heart,” asks “What do I get when I found I have nothing? Who am I without my name?” If the former was the truth, the latter explains the journey back to what matters most.
The Avetts have always leaned on their faith to guide them through the wilderness — relying on lyrical pillars of fire, so to speak — and it remains central to many songs on The Gleam III. From the aforementioned “Victory” to the plea to “give me some directions home” on “Prison to Heaven,” the duo cast upward glances searching for hope. On “Back to the Light,” they admit, “Sometimes I don’t see love in anything,” before realizing, once again, the posture is all wrong. “Just when I surrender to my shadow, I snap out of it, and step into the light.”
Even when The Avett Brothers speak to issues of isolation and incarceration and the general brokenness of things, the dominant lens through which all is viewed on The Gleam III is an intimate one. These aren’t fiery sermons but journal scrawls. In a recorded statement announcing the EP, The Avett Brothers described it as “a whisper of an offering in a time of blaring considerations.” That humility forms the foundation of this welcome EP.