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Review: Dawes, 'All Your Favorite Bands'

All Your Favorite Bands
Courtesy of the artist
All Your Favorite Bands

The young man sounds a bit shaken. His lover, perhaps the love of his life, has departed. He's surveying his options, talking to her even though she's not there, the way the jilted sometimes do. "I could wring out each memory until I get every drop."

It's just another line in another sturdy California rock song; one that's a shade less exuberant than other Dawes songs of recent vintage. That's followed by "Somewhere Along The Way," a more detailed chronicle of another dissolving relationship, and by then it's clear: This ritual wringing of memory is the driving idea behind All Your Favorite Bands.

Singer-songwriter Taylor Goldsmith has a knack for these looking-back songs; we don't know whether he's in the scene or just an observer, and he relates the often sad events without a trace of regret or rancor. Deep into the record, though, in another lost-the-girl ode, comes a telling confession: "All these backward glances are putting me in danger." Even then, knowing this, our protagonist will abide, as he vows a little later: "Even if you never will be coming back, I'll be waiting for your call."

With this, its fourth album, Dawes calls from deep inside the feedback loop of love's aftermath, a place where stray scenes from happier times rattle around unexpectedly to reinforce the stark loneliness of the present moment. For a songwriter, it's an interesting place to hang out, and Goldsmith takes full advantage of the dramatic possibilities. He's alternately philosophical and angry, full of despair and also warm fare-thee-well wishes for the girl who left to find out what life was like without a chaperone.

Sometimes, as in the Jackson Browne-influenced "Somewhere Along The Way," the tension of the narrative gets covered up by the cheeriness of the harmonies, which spread out like a gorgeous sunrise over mountains. Other times, like in the hymn-like title track, Goldsmith maybe tries too hard to position himself as an Ordinary Dude. Addressing the girl — here more of a generic construct than the humans he's talking to and about in other tracks — he tells her he hopes her "brother's El Camino runs forever," hopes "the world sees the same person you always were to me" and finally, now piling it on, he hopes "all your favorite bands stay together." On the page, this can seem like an overkill chorus, but as music, it registers differently — as an earnest expression of goodwill, something you'd only say to someone you care about. What makes it work is Goldsmith's expanded emotional range as a singer: Always compelling shouting from the mountaintops, he's developed a dialed-down, wounded-soul tone that's suited to this more contemplative material. The gray ambivalence in his voice reflects some of the murky terrain he's describing.

The band is right there with Goldsmith — following the ups and downs and enhancing his vocals with nicely textured accompaniments. Much of the record was captured live in the studio, including the lead vocals, and that method allows Dawes to create wild mood swings and sudden changes of weather. These songs would, of course, sound just fine if built layer by layer, with all the placidness and finesse we associate with the Laurel Canyon sound. But when done this way, the ragged edges and biting guitar chords somehow make those memories of love lost seem real, believable and even poignant.

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Tom Moon
Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.