After hearing Dawes’ new single, “Time Spent In Los Angeles,” for the first time, I felt literally buzzed. I was completely in the world of the song– and it’s a warm, familiar world. I slowly started to learn about Dawes– what I’d been missing: they are a four-piece band; they’ve got a pianist; they’re a band of brothers (lead singer Taylor Goldsmith, who is also a member of Middle Brother, and drummer Griffin Goldsmith); and they’re part of the Laurel Canyon sound (Crosby, Stills, & Nash; Neil Young; Jackson Browne; etc.).
A live performance of “Time Spent in Los Angeles”
This song is gorgeous. One of the best songs I’ve heard in a long time– starting off with, “These days my friends don’t seem to know me, without my suitcase in my hand”, Goldsmith sings about “place-lessness”, which after you’ve wandered for a while, seems like a permanent condition. The guitar is really tasteful– which is so awesome, because it means that when Goldsmith plays a riff, it stands out. I felt like this song kicked me in the guts a couple of times; the chorus, “You’ve got a special kind of sadness, you’ve got that tragic set of charms, that only comes from time spent in Los Angeles, makes me want to wrap you in my arms,” is perfect for the song; so much so that it took me a few listens to realize how impressive the stanzas were. (Good news, people; I took that hit for the team. I have listened to this song upwards of 50 or 60 times since Saturday. In fact, I’m not sure if I can listen to anything but this CD for a while. I have been crippled by brilliance.)
Basically, “Time Spent in Los Angeles” manages to be place-specific, but evoke “Every Town”, and it manages to be crushing without being sad. I actually teared up the first time I heard this song; Goldsmith’s lyrics coupled with his deep, plaintive voice provide a solid foundation for a perfect rock single. What elevates this song from being just a perfect rock single are the pianos; they catapult this song into something better than classification. Honestly, I am having a hard time even telling you how good this song is. You can hear the studio version here, at their website. I recommend you do that as soon as feasibly possible.
Now, the really (almost scary) thing: as much as I love “Time Spent in Los Angeles” (the fierce love of an animal protecting its young)– the rest of the record is just as good. Not almost as good, but equal to my favorite song of the year. My first listen-through, I thought several times, “No, this is the best song on the record.” (I always changed my mind back to “Time Spent in Los Angeles” as soon as everything ended, but there are a couple that are still contenders.)
The second song on the album, “If I Wanted Someone,” evokes early Neil Young (and how could it not: there’s no way to sneak in a lyric about a “maid” without referencing Harvest). Aside from a clever chorus–
If I wanted someone to clean me up, I’d find myself a maid
If I wanted someone to spend my money, then I wouldn’t need to get paid
If I wanted someone to understand me, I’d have so much more to say
I want you to make the days move easy
– the song is effortless, musically. I felt like I was listening to a record from the 70s. It’s got the same weight and feel as a classic song. And more than that, it’s got the same feeling. I feel like these songs have always been a part of my collection, but I’m learning the words for the first time. And every time I listen to the record, it sounds better. I’m trying really hard not to say that this is the best album of the year (because there have been other great albums; because the year is only half over) but it was an easy, knee-jerk reaction as I was listening to it yesterday. Because while you’re listening to Nothing is Wrong, it’s the only record you can think about.
“A Little Bit of Everything”
The last song on the record, “A Little Bit of Everything,” is another one that moved me nearly to tears; it tells the stories of several people (some on the edge of despair, some on the edge of joy), and manages to do so without being cloying, maudlin, or manipulative. Goldsmith seems to have wisdom beyond his years (another trait that runs through the record)– this song is exceptional. I think my favorite part is the second chorus, where instead of following the pattern of the first chorus, where the man on the bridge lists the “little bit of everything” that put him there, Goldsmith lists everything the man (also reflecting on sadness) is going to eat that night. It really makes the title of the song work; Goldsmith himself is writing about a little bit of everything, and doesn’t box himself in to any patterns or lyrics.
Many of the songs on this record feel as if Goldsmith had total freedom in writing them, which is a really stunning trait in such a young band; many writers, even very accomplished writers, feel married to certain patterns and styles. Goldsmith is experimental in his rhyme schemes, and he’s always willing to change a line in the chorus for impact (one stunning example; in “If I Wanted Someone,” a chorus line is changed to, “If I wanted someone to cut me down, I’d have handed you the blade”).
“Coming Back to a Man”
Goldsmith is also completely capable of handling serious subject matter with a sense of humor, as evidenced by “Coming Back to a Man.” The song tells the story of a woman coming back to apologize for “the things that [she's] done”, and Goldsmith ending the conversation by telling her, “You broke the quick-loving heart of a kid/ But you’re coming back to a man.” The lyrics bring a smile to my face (and are underscored perfectly by the jaunty, catchy music), but it’s not necessarily because it’s funny; the lyrics are at once nostalgic and affirming. Another fantastic song.
I could write about every song on the record (because in truth, they are all phenomenal in one way or another; each song has some insight all its own. It’s absolutely shocking to me that these songs are all written by young, young men on a sophomore release). I’ll spare you guys that (the covenant here being, I expect you to go buy the record and rave about each individual track by yourself), but there’s one more song that just can’t be ignored. “So Well” has some of the coolest music on the record. The harmonies here are gorgeous. The album title is taken from the last lines of this song– “Nothing is wrong.” And it feels very much like Goldsmith has some kind of knowledge that I, as the listener, don’t; I believe him when he says these words. It’s really stunning.
Again, if there’s such a thing as a perfect record, Dawes has accomplished that here. Nothing is Wrong is stunning; it’s a masterpiece made up of 11 small masterpieces. And when the record flips back from “A Little Bit of Everything” back to “Time Spent in Los Angeles,” I get a feeling of wholeness that I haven’t experienced in a record in a long time. I can’t rave enough about this record.