If a band is lucky enough to have a career that sees them release more than a couple of albums, it is almost a sure bet that their sound has progressed over the years. Sometimes, if the creative juices aren’t flowing as freely as they once were, their sound will actually regress. Such is the nature of things and, in many ways it, is to be expected. Yet, with their fifth album, We’re All Gonna Die, Los Angeles based quartet Dawes have managed the confusing feat of both progressing and regressing their sound simultaneously.
At the start of the writing process, Dawes set out to find and embrace each member’s unique sound and, by extension, the tell-tale combination that would mark a song as being by Dawes; distinctly of a specific group of musicians playing together. The introduction of the keyboardist Lee Pardini to the band – replacing Tay Strathairn – no doubt influenced the decision to take this approach, but set against this “new blood” of Pardini’s, Dawes also opted to bring Blake Mills on board as producer. Along with guitarist and vocalist Taylor Goldsmith, and bassist Wylie Gelber, Mills played in Simon Dawes, the indie-rock precursor to the indie-folk Dawes.
From the fuzzed-out riffing of opening track, One Of Us, and lead single, When The Tequila Runs Dry, it is clear that the Dawes of We’re All Gonna Die is borrowing heavily from the sound they first tried out under the Simon Dawes moniker. This regression in sound isn’t a bad thing, though fans of the indie-folk of the preceding four albums may have some adjustments to make, although there are still plenty of folky elements – such as the chorus to the opening track – to tie the current Dawes, to the previous Dawes, to Simon Dawes. The circle is now complete.
The titular We’re All Gonna Die ventures into dark-pop territory, with its wry lyrics being emblematic of the lyrical approach taken throughout the album. Roll With The Punches opens with an intriguing, and enviable, distorted guitar tone which is, in fact, not guitar at all but rather Pardini’s keyboard – demonstrating that he can fit right in – and this sits nicely in contrast to the twangy, country, tones of the actual guitar. Production throughout the record is remarkably clear, with each instrument being provided plenty of space to breathe and display nuance, as with Griffin Goldsmith’s drumming and Gelber’s bass work, and Less Than Five Miles Away stands as the best demonstration of Dawes working together as a group in this environment.
Dawes may find their new sound and approach alienates some of their existing fans, but with We’re All Gonna Die they definitely create interest and intrigue for what they’ll do next.