I’m thrilled my first full-fledged album review of 2023 is music by a contemporary band. While I featured Dawes and their song Ghost In The Machine in a Best of What’s New installment last July and also highlighted the great tune again in part 1 of my 2022 year-end feature, it wasn’t until this past Saturday that I finally listened to Misadventures of Doomscroller, their latest album released in July 2022, which includes this track. It was pretty much instant love – something that rarely happens to me, especially when it comes to contemporary artists!
Dawes emerged in 2009 from rock band Simon Dawes after that group’s co-songwriter Blake Mills had departed. This led them to both shorten their name to Dawes and change from a post-punk to a folk rock-oriented sound. AllMusic describes it as “influenced by the gentle acoustic style and rich vocal harmonies of the Laurel Canyon sound (Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell) as well as the shambling, romanticized Americana of the Band.” That’s a great characterization. For this album, I would add a pretty sophisticated, progressive rock-like complexity to their music.
The current line-up of Dawes features brothers Taylor Goldsmith (guitars, vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), along with Wylie Gelber (bass) and Lee Pardini (keyboards). Misadventures of Doomscroller is their eighth studio album. According to this review by Entertainment Focus, it was produced by the Los Angeles band’s longtime collaborator Jonathan Wilson, who has also worked with Angel Olsen, Benmont Tench, Jackson Browne, Margo Price and Father John Misty, among others.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on being minimalists. With this record we set out on being MAXIMALISTS,” the band’s main songwriter Taylor Goldsmith told Entertainment Focus. “Still a quartet. Still not letting these songs hide behind any tricks or effects. But really letting the songs breathe and stretch and live however they want to. We decided to stop having any regard for short attention spans. Our ambitions go beyond the musical with this one.”
I’d say it’s time to take a closer look at some of the goodies. Opening the album is the impressive medley Someone Else’s Cafe/Doomscroller Tries to Relax. Like all other tracks except for one, it was penned by Taylor Goldsmith. The two tunes are connected by a middle section, creating a feel of a song suite. “The first half of this song could be about tyrants,” Goldsmith explained to Entertainment Focus. “But it could also be about anyone who thinks that a little more control is gonna make everything ok. The second half is a response to that developing reality of the first half. The world might be a scary place sometimes but, to some degree, I want to believe I can decide how I respond to it.” Check out this neat sound and cool groove – so good, all of its 10-plus minutes!
The next track I’d like to call out is Comes In Waves. In a news post on the group’s website, Goldsmith notes: I had this riff and one of the verses for a while. Griffin, Wylie and Mike Viola came over to my backyard (this was peak covid) to just play music together for one of the first times since lockdown. I started sharing the song and Griffin and Mike started singing their background parts you hear on the choruses on the record immediately. It inspired me to finish writing it. The lyric is about the arbitrary demands I make on myself. I want to perceive me or my life a certain way but I make no exceptions for an off day or a misstep. Whether it’s a win or a loss, it’s all transient, and only when I can live in some version of that awareness (which is itself transient) am I able to bat away any fears or anxieties or the consequences of an over indulged ego.
Since I already covered the excellent Ghost In The Machine twice, I’m skipping it in this review. Instead, the last tune I’d like to highlight is titled Everything Is Permanent, the only track on the album Goldsmith co-wrote, with Jimmy Joliff. Evidently quoting Goldsmith again, the above news post notes it’s a song (about how everything about us is tracked, documented, recorded, filed, mined, bought, sold, etc. etc. on some level) that is wrapped around a molten core of a breakdown/ freakout/majorminorinterweave that is probably the moment I’m most proud of on the whole record. After showing you the blood and guts, we gently sew the song back together again and end with what could be the tagline for all of social media and the screen-life-culture that we subscribe to these days to varying degrees: “Did you really need to cry? Or be seen crying?”
Misadventures of Doomscroller is an album I can highly recommend. To start with, Dawes are really fine musicians. If I would have to call out anybody in particular, I would pay close attention to drummer Griffin Goldsmith. I also love Wylie Gelber’s melodic bass playing. The other thing that stands out to me is the group’s neat harmony singing. The comparisons to CSN and The Band are not off-base!
Last but not least, here’s a Spotify link to the album. In case you don’t know it already, hope you will further check it out and dig it as much as I do!
Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Entertainment Focus; Dawes website; YouTube; Spotify