This review was originally published at Listen Before You Buy.
As a fan of alt-country-folk-rock in almost any manifestation, I was beyond pleased upon discovering Dawes. My first encounter with this band was their latest release “Nothing Is Wrong” and though nothing at all is wrong with the record, the title seems a bit ironic, as the record reveal a deep sadness and discussion of what is indeed wrong with the world today.
This discussion manifests itself through a myriad of themes, but centers largely around a love that lets down, by no means a new topic in this genre. There is something specifically brutal about the heartbreak Dawes describe though, as it weaves in and out of almost every track in some form. Perhaps the greatest strength of the record is that such an age-worn topic sounds new through the unique lens that Dawes addresses it with.
The album opener ‘Time Spent In Los Angeles’ immediately drew me in. I spent the last five years living there and I have never heard a song that sums up the effects of that city in a better way: “You got that special kind of sadness/ You got that tragic set of charms/ That only comes from time spent in Los Angeles/ Makes me want to wrap you in my arms.” That line will probably send the same chill through the heart of anyone who has spent time in this eerie city.
Songs like ‘Coming Back To A Man’ and ‘If I Wanted Someone’ addresses issues of the heart through a jaded and cynical lens. The former unfolds a dream-like confrontation with a long-lost betraying ex, in which the speaker finally gets to explain to the betrayer “You broke the quick, giving heart of a kid/ But you’re now coming back to a man”. In the latter Goldsmith croons “I want you to make the days move easy” which sounds sweet, but in contrast to the list of things he doesn’t want from her, almost sounds a bit dismissive. Even ‘How Far We’ve Come’, a raucous celebratory song, still manages to get a dig in at the girl that broke his heart, as frontman Taylor Goldsmith urges that girl who broke his heart to “See how far I’ve come”.
It is the heartbreak, after all, that always keeps us coming back for more. At times, Dawes sound a bit like they are channeling Ryan Adams, especially on the track ‘So Well’ with achy-breaky guitar licks and sorrowful harmonies, however the equally ambitious ‘Fire Away’ ends with a build-up and electric guitar solo so rock-esque that it erases any memory of Adams comparisons.
Lyrically, the emphasis of this album centers on personal recollection, strongly tinted with emotion. Musically the album is backed by prominent guitars, plenty of organ, guitar twang and well-balanced percussion; but even the familiar sounding ballad-like tracks are still slightly tipped on their head. ‘Moon In The Water’, for example, isn’t about a love-laced evening, but instead about how love is as unattainable as moonlit watery surfaces.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, you should be prepared to get a little sad during this Dawes album. The lyrics are checked with loneliness, misfortune and heartbreak, but the accompanying music is uplifting enough to make you believe in love – even while the words decry it. If you like what you hear, check them out on Conan O’Brien this Thursday, December 15. Stream a live version of the whole album [don’t worry, you can break it up track by track too] right here.