Dawes expand their horizons and deliver a complex and brilliant album for our times.
Dawes is a 4 piece band from southern California that erupted onto the country rock/Americana scene in 2009. Named after the middle name of Taylor Goldsmith, a formidable songwriter, singer and lead guitarist, but do not let that lull you into undervaluing the contribution from the other members of the band – Griffin Goldsmith (drums), Wylie Gelber (bass) and Lee Pardini (keyboards). Dawes became a very slick, melodic LA country rock band over their first three or four albums with a retro 70s sound reminiscent of Jackson Browne/ Eagles. An earlier reviewer of their third album ’Stories Don’t End’ suggested that ‘it may be time to put a few bumps in the road’. And on album 5 ‘We’re All Gonna Die’ they duly did, with the impact of new keyboard/synth player Pardini and something of a move away from their trademark sound.
Three albums later and here is ‘Misadventures of Doomscroller’, a more significant bump for the band. We have been used to some longish songs on their albums before but here there are only 6 tracks (7 if you include the coda to ‘Joke in There Somewhere’), yet it is more than 46 minutes long. Goldsmith has explained that the band wanted to stretch out, see where the music took them and experiment a little, not unlike the way their live shows evolve. So, you get some funk, some hard rock, some jazzy stylings, some soft balladry, some instrumental meanderings, mid-song changes of pace, all in the service of the songs. Some of these are up with Goldsmith’s best; existential musings on today’s negative news and our/his reactions to it.
Take the first single ‘Someone Else’s Café/ Doomscroller Tries to Relax’ which starts with some solo drumming, then a great guitar riff kicks in before the verse and chorus. Two minutes in and there is a lovely guitar break and when the next verse starts there is an unexpected wah-wah guitar in the background, then another drum and percussion solo before Pardini breaks into a keyboard break not unlike the jazz fusion albums of the 80s. After 5 minutes the midpaced song slows right down to walking pace and there is a wave of glorious multi-tracked Beach Boys-styled harmonies singing the refrain (Doomscroller trying to relax) ” So let’s enjoy each other’s company, on the brink of our despair, does someone have a song to sing, or a joke that they could share”. This track has everything and is stunning, and a great start to the album.
‘Everything is Permanent Now’ has elements of their retro sound – check out the verses and chorus lines – but then it slows right down to a very jazzy guitar and synth break before the guitar riff takes us back to the main tune
Goldsmith has described the album as a move from minimalist to maximalist, and it works. Song after song of glorious tunes, some seriously good guitar breaks, tight drums/percussion, glorious bass lines, beautiful keyboards and synths- Pardini’s influence is quite evident and his piano solo in the rocking ‘Ghost in the Machine’ is one of many highlights.
In summary this is an album by a band totally at one with each other and is a great musical experience. Not necessarily to every Dawes fan’s taste maybe, and perhaps just a brilliant by-road along the way. In any event, repeated listens will reward you handsomely.