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Dawes' New Album Grapples With Regret Without Getting You Down


This is FRESH AIR. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the new fourth album from the band Dawes called "All Your Favorite Bands." The California quartet is led by lead vocalist and main songwriter Taylor Goldsmith.


DAWES: (Singing) To be completely honest, the picture isn't clear to me yet. You insisted that you had explanations while I was patiently enjoying the day. And when I think about it, I'm not even sure if I mind. You were the fading signal that would slip through the static for a station that I never could find.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: That song is called "To Be Completely Honest." That's the implied sentiment of a million pop songs which promise honesty and sometimes deliver music that feels like the truth. But it's a measure of how skilled and clever Dawes is that the bank can profess honesty while making you aware that in any given proclamation, you're only going to get one side of the story.


DAWES: (Singing) I could go on talking or I stop, wring out each memory 'til I get every drop. Sift through the details of the others involved. The true crime would be thinking it's just one person's fault. Like an honest signature on a fake ID, like the guilty conscience with the innocent plea. You can just ignore it, put it out of mind, but ain't it funny how the past won't every let something. Let's make a list of all the things the world has put you through. Let's make...

TUCKER: One of the things that struck me upon first listening to this album is that songwriter Taylor Goldsmith wants you to think he's working through some difficult transitions. In the past, a Dawes album has usually been characterized by a meticulous craft used to express contentment or happiness or resignation. This time around, there's more sarcasm, pessimism, even bitterness. "Things Happen" forces its quiet, pretty melody to contrast with the lyric about a relationship that's hit a wall that's forced it's narrator to throw up his hands and walk away; or in the case of the song "Don't Send Me Away," to make one last plea.


DAWES: (Singing) You can send me a message if you don't want to talk. And make sure I don't interrupt. It might help you let it go. It's hard for you, I know, to act like you're not giving up. But don't send me away. There's nowhere else I'm going to. Don't send me away.

TUCKER: The music they use as a keyboard riff that pulses beneath Goldsmith's vocal like a distress signal from someone at sea. In the chorus, his voice reaches for a register that causes a strain that works as a sonic metaphor for an anxiety and unwillingness to let go that's as effective as any words could be. Indeed, one of the best things about this album is its near-constant perfect matching of sentiment with melody. Nowhere is this more clear than on the title song. "All Your Favorite Bands" tips its hat to the past with a fond remembrance of a cherished friendship or romance.


DAWES: (Singing) Late-night drives and hot french fries and friends around the country, from Charlottesville to good old Santa Fe. When I think of you, you've still got on that hat that says let's party. I hope that thing is never thrown away. I hope that life without a chaperone is what you thought it be. I hope your brother's El Camino runs forever. I hope the world sees the same person that you've always been to me, and may all your favorite bands stay together.

TUCKER: The line may all your favorite bands stay together risks corniness, and I'm glad Dawes took that risk. This is a band whose technical polish combined with its mastery of a certain era of California pop rock has made for some very comfortable listening; comfy enough for Dawes to have rated an appearance of the recently canceled TV show "Parenthood." Like that series, Dawes at its best courts sentimentality only to avoid it by making those sentiments sting with pain and longing.


DAWES: (Singing) When your restlessness has lost its way and you're finished with your need to stray, it's not even something I am proud to say, I'll be waiting for your call.

TUCKER: Whether Taylor Goldsmith sings about waiting for a phone call of reconcilement that's probably never going to happen or taking close to 10 minutes telling someone named Maria that it's too late to repair the romantic past, Dawes has managed to make an album that grapples with sadness in a way that avoids downbeat ballads. Instead, this is the sound of a band stretching out, letting the melodies and Taylor Goldsmith's vocals illustrate the range and depth of doubt and regret as eloquently as any breakup lyric could possibly describe.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed the new album from Dawes called "All Your Favorite Bands." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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