Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tuesday Listening - Dawes

In the 1970's the Southern California sound took its hold from the depths of the Laurel Canyon area in Los Angeles, bringing forth a sound based on strong songwriting, lyrics and melodies.  Artists like Jackson Browne, The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills & Nash churned out music that came to signify this area in a blend of soft rock, country, and folk.  When LA band Dawes first broke onto the scene with their debut album North Hills, the influences of this Southern California sound were obvious and evident.  Songs like "Love is All I Am" from 2009's  North Hills are a clear linear line from Crosby, Stills & Nash, while songs like "A Little Bit of Everything" off 2011's Nothing is Wrong established lead singer Taylor Goldsmith as having the lyrical and melodic chops of Jackson Browne.  Stories Don't End, the third album from Dawes, continues to build on this lineage without recreating what's already been done, but paying homage to it while honing a sound that's all their own.

One of the key elements of the Laurel Canyon sound was the focus on poetic lyrics.  Lead singer and songwriter Taylor Goldsmith has managed to re-introduce poetic lyrics as a necessary ingredient in music, using storytelling in a way usually reserved for country music.  Dawes manages to use words, phrases and rhymes in their songs that are somehow obvious but without being implicit.  Each of their verses displays a lyrical mastery that is emotional, provoking, and awakening.  It is subtle, but pervasive.  Goldsmith sings these lyrics in an unassuming way, but pairs them with clean melodies making it near impossible to not pay attention to what he's singing.

This songwriting and melodic prowess continues with Stories Don't End.  It starts forcefully on its first track, "Just Beneath the Surface" with a harder driving beat and a heavy, more rounded out sound than on previous albums.  "From A Window Seat" -the first single off the album - pulls straight from the Laurel Canyon vibe but with a bit of a darker groove.  Songs like "Just My Luck" and "Something in Common" slow it down with a sentimental, pensive feel and the remarkable storytelling that is becoming their hallmark.  Goldsmith manages to get the intended feeling across without over-saturating it, with lyrics like "but all my best kept secrets are the ones I didn't know I had" giving a bittersweet nostalgic quality to each song.  "Most People" and "From The Right Angle" encapsulate the Dawes sound, striking the perfect balance of strong melody, catchy hooks, musicality and of course, impressionable lyrics, all sung with Taylor Goldsmith's unassuming yet pointed voice.  The title track of the album, "Stories Don't End" is an especially poignant and tender portion. Fittingly, the album ends with a gentler reprise of "Just Beneath the Surface", leaving us feeling as though we've just finished a novel or gone on some sort of journey.

This sense of a journey is what makes this the rare type of album that you want to repeatedly listen to from start to finish.  While not a concept album, there is a continuity to its flow.  The music lies humbly, waiting for attention, until suddenly your ears perk up at a particular melody, lyric or verse, at which point the veil is lifted and listening to them becomes an incredibly active experience - sometimes searching for the meaning or paying closer attention to the lyrics, but always wanting to go on the journey again.

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