Dawes, ‘Stories Don’t End’ – Album Review
Dawes is one of those rare rock acts -- think Kings of Leon or Ray LaMontagne -- that glides effortlessly between popular music and a believably vintage-sounding aesthetic. Singer Taylor Goldsmith’s analog lead vocals may be unique for the ProTools-era listener, but his delivery is, unquestionably, a chip off of Jackson Browne’s old block. (Somewhat ironically, the band has backed Browne on tour). Which, in recent years, has left us scratching our heads. Does this band have an authenticity problem, or is this the sound of rock music’s Next Big Thing?
The young band’s two previous albums were definitely building toward something. ‘North Hills’ (2009) was a sonically average debut, full of close, Grateful Dead-esque harmonies and sparse production. The real magic came courtesy of Goldsmith’s songwriting skills. It was clear he had "the gift." ‘Nothing Is Wrong’ (2011) rocked harder, had more memorable hooks, and revealed a band on the brink of its make-or-break moment. The album even hit No. 64 on the Billboard 200.
So when a whole lotta something was made about the band updating its sound at the beginning of this year, we were skeptical: Would the new album mark the end of underdog Dawes? Would this be their ‘Only By the Night?’ We were hoping it was just hype. "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," we whispered softly in the direction of our hi-fi.
If ‘Stories Don’t End’ is Dawes’ mainstream moment, they still has a ways to go. But that’s meant less as a strike against the band as another point in their favor; in fact, with this album, Dawes have established themselves as the Kings of the New Vintage Rock Movement. (Previous wearers of said crown include the Strokes, My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses and the aforementioned KoL).
The album begins by zigzagging thematically, racing out of the gates with the strong ‘Just Beneath the Surface,’ which shares a bass backbeat with the Wallflowers’ ‘One Headlight.' That's followed by the tongue-in-cheek travel testimonial ‘From a Window Seat,’ which evokes early Warren Zevon, and the down-tempo mellow-out moment ‘Just My Luck.’ (Still, nothing too out-of-the-ordinary Dawes here.)
But as if on cue, the record revs up on track four. Structurally, Dawes provides hooks aplenty and broad-stroke choruses primed for arenas. (Maybe this is what Goldsmith was talking about in that article?) ‘Someone Will’ shares a spirit animal with MMJ’s ‘Golden,' while ‘Most People’ is the first tune appropriate for FM radio. It boasts a huge chorus meant to be sung by drunken college kids and possibly even country fans -- though we’ll let the radio programmers decide. ‘Hey Lover’ is playful camp that name-checks Google and will need a radio edit, since Taylor’s brother, Griffin, lobs an F-bomb in the second verse.
If you get to the bookend ‘Just Beneath the Surface (Reprise)’ and still aren't convinced that Dawes deserves 100 percent of your attention, we suggest you get your ears checked out.