Dawes “North Hills”
On their last record I had Dawes pigeonholed as nostalgists; sure they sounded wonderful, to me though their appeal was as limited as their ambition seemed to be.
A lot had changed from this debut and I’ve certainly not embraced the whole Laurel Canyon aesthetic and yet I find this record a whole lot easier to. Maybe because it isn’t beholden to that whole scene, it still contains traces of their roots. It is a little more subdued, more subtle, less enthusiastic to be loved, it moves confidently with the relaxed swagger of a band who know are searching for and finding an identity.
There’s still as much sweetness as one could need, enough harmonies to excite, there’s also something else. ‘Peace in the Valley’ doesn’t rely on the same soft rock tropes, there’s a simmering undercurrent of violence, rainclouds in the valley, and an extended guitar workout that provides a crowning coda to the record. ‘That Western Skyline’ which opens is altogether different, Taylor Goldsmith’s voice strides through the song with confidence, he pulls the song along, dominates it, showing how strong his writing and performance already were. ‘Love is All I Am’ is further evidence of this stronger, more resolute style, it’s sinewy, Dawes had muscles and they flex them here. So the older songs like ‘When My Time Comes’ don’t sound like a footnote in the Jackson Browne songbook, at times they strangely sounded more like Pedro the Lion.
If you strip back the harmonies and the piano hook from ‘God Rest My Soul’ it could easily be a David Bazan composition. This isn’t such a bubble of nostalgia, it’s a band stretching out and finding their strengths; there’s a lot of variety here, the textures and rhythms vary, some like ‘If You Let Me Be Your Anchor’ rely on loose harmonising for their impact as does the lower key ‘Take Me Out of the City’ (think Royal City cleaned up). With this record Dawes showed the band they promised to be. ‘Nothing is Wrong’ saw them slip into a comfort zone with a cleaner sound, I prefer this earlier version before all of the roughness had been erased and they began to resemble their idols too closely.