Dawes – All Your Favorite Bands
Released June 2, 2015, via Hub Records
“May all your favorite bands stay together.”
That lyric is at the heart of the title track of Dawes’ fourth album, All Your Favorite Bands. It’s a touching entreaty, one wrapped in sentimentality, kindness, and good wishes. Who wouldn’t want their favorite bands to stay together?
But even the kindest of wishes have the tendency to go sour. For every band that dissolves at the height of its powers, there’s a group that soldiers on long past their prime, to increasingly diminishing returns. The history of rock music is rife with examples of this: the last time the Rolling Stones put out a truly unassailable album, the Reagan years were just beginning; the Who have continued on with only two of the original quartet remaining (ie; still alive), releasing one album in the last 33 years; Lynyrd Skynyrd exists in name only, with only one original member remaining. We may like the idea of the bands of our youth staying together, but they rarely remain relevant the way they were in their primes, the way we want to remember them by.
That’s why that lyric is so important: it can be very easily applied to love and relationships. We tend to romanticize their peaks and apexes, conveniently omitting their troughs and nadirs. It’s easy to trick yourself into believing that things could continue on the way they might’ve been, just like it’s easy to wish that all your favorite bands would stay together, as if they could possibly sustain the period that produced their best music. It’s a fool’s errand, a kind of romantic purgatory that keeps you suspended in time and prevents forward movement.
Dawes has existed in that gray area since their debut album (2009’s gorgeously rendered North Hills), and All Your Favorite Bands sees them continuing to mine that same territory, though perhaps not quite as well as their past efforts. The new album possesses the slick sheen that graced their last release, 2013’s strong Stories Don’t End. Like that album, Bands is very much a grower; it doesn’t strike you immediately like North Hills or the band’s second album, 2011’s tremendous Nothing Is Wrong. Rather, Bands sneaks up on you after multiple listens. It reveals itself slowly, carefully, in layers. What might’ve seemed cloying at first becomes endearing.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on first single lead-off track “Things Happen”. Against a cracking full band arrangement, lead singer/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith offers a simple, seemingly cliched premise: “Things happen,” he declares. “That’s all they ever do.” Considering the lyrical gymnastics Goldsmith normally employs, this may seem a tad… unrefined. And indeed, on first listen one’s reaction might lean more towards *eye roll* than *applauds at lyrical salience*. But dig deeper into the verses: “On a different time, on a different floor/I might mourn the loss of who I’m not anymore.” That’s a good line, and it’s indicative of just how deft this band’s lyrics can be.
It’s not hard to see, then, how Goldsmith has made a name for himself as one of the 21st century’s premiere lyricists, crafting carefully wraught stories of heartbreak, struggle, and triumph. He’s got a voice that perfectly frames his words, equal parts bittersweet, soaring, and conversational. His guitar playing covers multiple angles through the course of single songs; it’s not surprising to hear sweet, sympathetic melody lines juxtaposed against jazzy chordal motifs (or vice-versa) in the same track. Dire Straits send-up “I Can’t Think About It Now” melds all of these ideas into a six-minute album centerpiece, featuring a fiery guitar solo that builds to a cathartic crescendo.
All Your Favorite Bands once again finds the band expanding their once primarily roots-based sound. This is very much a “plugged in” record: acoustic guitars are employed far less frequently than on their first two albums, continuing a trend that began with Stories Don’t End. The album’s opening salvo, consisting of “Things Happen”, “Somewhere Along the Way”, and “Don’t Send Me Away” are nearly devoid of acoustic instrumentation. They also happen to contain some of the strongest hooks on the album; “Somewhere Along the Way”, in particular, is an album highlight (and also happens to employ acoustic rhythm guitar). And while the band has avoided highlighting acoustic guitars the way their first albums did, it’s also not hard to hear echoes of the band’s sound from several years back. Their roots are pure Laurel Canyon: Jackson Browne, early Eagles, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young are obvious touchstones in their sound. And while they’ve seemingly moved further away from that Hollywood Hills jumping off point, that sound is so ingrained in their musical DNA that it’s impossible to shake. In fact, the piano-centric title track harkens back to Nothing Is Wrong standout “A Little Bit Of Everything”, a song that, in many ways, sums up the band’s influences. It wouldn’t sound out of place on an early-70s Neil Young album.
Despite all that’s good about this album, All Your Favorite Bands sometimes seems a tad safe. The production gleams and the songs are sturdy and well-constructed. And while the band made a point of selling this as their most live-sounding album, it feels a little too polished to make that sentiment ring true. North Hills felt rawer than this, more organic. And some of the lyrics feel very of their time: both “Somewhere Along the Way” and “Don’t Send Me Away” reference things like solar panels and instant messaging. Those lyrics might seem relevant, even clever, today, but might someday sound shortsighted. “Right On Time” begins with “If these walls could talk…”, a phrase used far more effectively (and, granted, in an entirely different genre and context) by Kendrick Lamar earlier this year. These lyrics are not among Goldsmith’s finer turns of phrase.
Altogether, Dawes has crafted a nice, extremely solid fourth album, one that sounds better taken as a whole than as individual tracks. The band is locked in, tightly honed from years of touring. Goldsmith sounds comfortable in his craft, and despite a couple of misses, he’s once again crafted an album packed with emotional resonance and wide-screen storytelling. Album closer “It’s Too Late, Maria” might serve as the record’s best summary of the band’s best qualities: Goldsmith’s bittersweet voice, playing, and lyrics, all packed with regret and finality; the ease of the band’s groove; the way all of the band’s components lock together to tell a story. That’s the kind of band Dawes are at their best: they can make a nearly 10-minute song feel like the cool breeze on a sun-drenched California day. They possess the tools to make music as cinematic as the Hills they come from.
Life without a chaperone may not be all you thought it’d be, and your brother’s El Camino may not run forever, but if All Your Favorite Bands ends up as Dawes worst album thus far, then this very well may be a band that we hope stays together forever.