By Matt Starlight
Since their debut record North Hills hit the shelves in 2009, Dawes has been quietly building a following of listeners who prize singer/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith’s soulful lyrics and Dylan-esque folk rock style songwriting. Currently, Goldsmith is joined by brother Griffin (guitar and drums) and bandmates Wylie Gelber (bass) and Tay Strathairn (keyboard) in their pursuit of melodic, soulful music.
With the release of their fourth album, All Your Favorite Bands, Dawes continues to live up to their reputation of accessible, intelligent tunes but offer little in the way of pushing boundaries. The record flows well—so much so that picking out favorite songs becomes a difficult task. Locating the end of one and the beginning of another is more challenging than you would think, as the album tends to blend together after an extended listen.
But Dawes’s mission here isn’t to shock and awe, nor is it to redefine themselves and what they stand for. The opening song, “Things Happen,” exemplifies the sound the band has been cultivating for the better half of the last decade by building on soft melodies with harmonies that work so well you could easily guess the two vocalists have been singing together since childhood. It’s a fine representation of their previous sounds. Here, the lyrics seem to be an ill-contrived attempt to console an ex, but not without a dash of malice. If you used the phrase “ I don’t know what else you want me to say to you / things happen” to show anyone a bit of compassion, you’re not exactly the world’s best shoulder to cry on. Taking their subject matter to disgruntled and difficult past is Dawes’ bread and butter.
What does sparkle with a hint of novelty is Goldsmith’s versatility with his guitar. The typical acoustic strumming of G’s, C’s, and A minors now features Goldsmith shredding impressive solos that breathe life into an otherwise less than exhilarating record. Another new gem is when he’s willing to strain his voice a bit, such as in “Right on Time.” It’s fun to hear him go beyond what normally sounds like a melodically spoken prose, so here’s to hoping that he realizes how little extra effort it takes for his voice to inject some much needed passion into their usually mellow sound.
The band’s renowned tendency for autobiographical lyrics has played a big role in defining their sound. It hasn’t always been easy to assume what their lyrics are about, but it’s usually doable. Now, with, All Your Favorite Bands, they seem to be about staying true and dedicated to themselves, with the occasional tribute to a lost lover. This would probably be a cliche attempt at depth for other groups, but with Dawes, you know they’re based on true experiences. Goldsmith’s ability to take his raw, emotional thoughts and create polished and well-crafted lyrics out of them lend itself to the idea that what you hear is what really happened.
To suggest that All Your Favorite Bands is surprising, or that Dawes is going in a new direction, would be a laughable proposition, but there’s nothing out there that says refining and perfecting what you know you can do is wrong. All Your Favorite Bands is not surprising. It’s not a new direction. An argument that it’s a direct sequel to their previous records would probably be the most fitting description, but don’t let what seems to be a negative aspect sway you away from a solid album by a band with a talent for great music.
Dawes expertly delivers impressive harmonies and songs that are generally a pleasure to listen to. If you’ve been happy with what you’ve heard in the past, let All Your Favorite Bands lead you further down that path into the musical stylings of Taylor Goldsmith.