Dawes – ‘We’re All Gonna Die’ Review

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Dawes are masters of their craft. Over the past 5 years, they’ve put out 4 LPs made up of dynamic folk-rock essentials and silky heartbreak ballads. The calling card for Dawes is frontman Taylor Goldsmith’s keen eye for the big picture lessons one can learn from life’s minutiae. Like Conor Oberst and Isaac Brock, he harvests and consistently delivers proverbial nuggets of universal truth. That does not change on the band’s latest, We’re All Gonna Die; the same rootsy parables show up here – but this time, the instrumentation is as clever and detail-oriented as Goldsmith’s lyrics.

In the short time since last year’s All Your Favorite Bands, Dawes seem to have delineated what makes a Dawes song a Dawes song — then, while keeping those things at the heart of their sound, they worked to make the most diverse and interesting album in that space. This dedication to both identity and experimentation is evident in the result. Each offering comes equipped with production tricks and little moments that enhance the endeavor at hand. Bleary guitar swells bolster the over-exposed chorus of “Roll With The Punches;” a passage of sweet, sun-tanned harmonies is the highlight of the organ-laden Gracelander “Picture of a Man;” gentle strings add drama to the slow, soulful “Roll Tide” (which features lead vocals from drummer & Goldsmith brother Griffin); even the anthemic, punchy lead single “When the Tequila Runs Out” is punctuated by nuanced little guitar licks, sharp synths, and chimes.

As for those classic Taylor Goldsmith quotables, there is no shortage on We’re All Gonna Die. You’ve got dreamy, whimsical charmers (“The stars were just holes punched in a shoebox”), clever relationship truths “quit telling these girls your ideas about forever, when you only plan to know them for the night”), and delightfully hooky party observations (“They had Thriller on the stereo, not the album just the song”). Goldsmith’s most reliable song structure is utilized once again on “For No Good Reason;” the handy go-to is taking a simple phrase – in this case, “maybe its for no good reason at all” – and assigning new meaning to it in each verse through a unique story or perspective. Like Stories Don’t End’s gorgeous & like-minded “Just My Luck,” it examines our human tendency (and Taylor’s heightened tendency) to search for the meaning in everything, ultimately arriving at the conclusion that sometimes things happen (it’s all they ever do).

This kind of becomes the thesis of We’re All Gonna Die. On the Jim James assisted title track, an orchestral, falsetto-laden ballad, Taylor employs a bit of existential nihilism as a solve for writer’s block and a failed relationship. In a state of self-doubt and worry, he gets some choice advice from an enthusiastic concert-goer: “Try not to get upset, let it all go by because how can it be that bad if we’re all gonna die?” And on their fifth album, Dawes definitely took that tip. The most organic art comes when the pressure is off. As a result, We’re All Gonna Die is the most natural Dawes LP since the pressure’s been on – it feels like a refreshing exhale after holding a deep breath in, for both the artist and the listener. Take a listen, or not; either way, we’re all gonna die.

Score: 8.4/10

Best Tracks: “Picture of a Man,” “Roll Tide,” “When the Tequila Runs Out”

FFO: Conor Oberst, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan