Dawes “Nothing is Wrong”

Dawes came across my radar a few years back with the track “When My Time Comes,” from their album North Hills.  It’s a song about the futile feelings one experiences when confronted with their own mortality – justifying choices made and writing off the losses – and being left a lot of memories but little accumulated wisdom.  Loved it.  The album at large, though, wasn’t as great.  There were a few standout tracks, but it wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked, and in order for me to call an ‘album’ good, it has to be consistent, free of duds (or at least duds with purpose), and tell a story with music at a scale that a single song couldn’t.  That’s about the time that I discovered ‘Nothing is Wrong’, their sophomore release.

Nothing is Wrong” was the soundtrack to my summer.  I had been doing a lot of travelling to San Francisco at the time, and there was something really organic, raw, and authentic about the Cali-rock sound that really reached me.  The two main vocalists in the group are brothers – the lead guitarist/singer and drummer/singer.  Strangely reminiscent of The Band, with a storytelling-songwriting ethic that conjures up memories of Springsteen at his best, and better.

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“My Way Back Home” is the standout track for me.  It gives me chills to discuss the lyrics even now, as I’m writing about them.  The song is about searching the world for something bigger, more important, more significant… but at the end of the day knowing that the only truth is the one that’s been there all along (at home).  I struggled with this song, personally, because it was incredibly convicting in my personal life – the reason why I’d been travelling to California was to help start up a software company.  Initial aspirations were huge, but eventually I found that the thing that made me happiest was returning home from these trips to a happy wife and our little house in East Petersburg.  It’s a recurring theme throughout literature and pop culture; the idea that ‘money can’t buy happiness’, or that ‘success is relative’ is not new.  But this song, this year, did more to humble me and help me find truth at home than anything else.

“I’m like a bird that crashes into the window
That was drawn to the reflection of the sky”

“But I pray to keep on looking for as long as I can roam
And when the world finally fulfills me
I will not forget my way back home”

The song is a metaphor for the story that it tells; the song starts off very quiet, very softly, and slowly builds.  After the *blistering* guitar solo, the song is at its loudest as Taylor Goldsmith is singing the final harmonized lines about the diminishing returns of worldliness.  Just as the song began, almost hinting to the emotional moment when you’re walking up to your own doorstep from whence you came, it ends on a satisfyingly soft chord, bringing the entire journey full circle.  The soundscape of this song is even a metaphor; they soak the largest parts of the song in reverb, giving a sense of the space that world has while you’re looking within it for meaning… and then finish on the quiet, intimate tightness of home – no reverb, cozy.

“The Moon in the Water” is a song written to a first love, explaining how the writer’s concept of love has matured .  The song starts with recounting memories of reckless love in youth… offering his love though being told that he doesn’t really understand what ‘love’ is.  We’ve all been there.  Saying ‘I love you’ too early is a sign of romantic naiveté.  The singer continues through life, hooking up with girls to pass the time, but never again recapturing the magic of the first love.  Girl after girl tells him that they love him, but he, being more seasoned in life and love, offers the same advice that he was given.

“When she says,’”If I’ve had love in my life then surely this is it’
I said, ‘Anyone who talks like that doesn’t understand one bit
That love is for the fighter born to lose but never quit
Swinging for the moon in the water’” 

The singer finally admits to himself that these girls are not as special as his original love.

“I hoped my loneliness found peace
I hoped my number had been drawn
When all I wanted from her was toremind me of you…”

After a while, the singer gradually begins to learn that love involves dying to self, putting someone else’s needs first, and allowing your partner to change.  The final lines of the song break my heart – I think they may be the finest way of expressing in words and music the nature of love.  It encapsulates selflessness, hopelessly needing someone more than anything else, etc.

“So I stay out in the streets, hoping to find you anywhere
Now that I understand the woman you need to be
I can feel you in the heat, I can taste you in the air
And I can’t help but find your face in everything I see

And once I can admit you’re gone I’ll place it on a star
And wait for the day I’m what you need and then reach out for heart…
Cause even if love is more my mistress than my lovers ever are
You’ll always be the moon in the water.”

Dawes have this uncanny ability to create profound metaphors, and in the very next line whip out something incredibly plainspoken and practical.  The bold line in the previous stanza is simultaneously simple and real, but it’s surrounded by nuanced lines that require closer inspection.  Brilliant. As DJ’s, we’ve played “Moon in the Water” for dinner hour because it’s a great love song, and fits nicely.

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“Time Spent in Los Angeles” is my final pick from this album, and if I had enough space or time to write a thesis on each track, I would.  But it’s all about editing, right?  This particular song was the commercially successful track from the record, and for good reason.  It’s catchy, light, and easy to listen to, but the lyrical content is rather exception when you inspect closely.  This song is about, among other things, about wanting to give someone you love a new, better home than the one that they had.  Taylor Goldsmith obviously has a lot of emotions tied to his life on the road, and that’s something that I identified with in a small way when I was travelling a lot over the summer.  I was worried that my friends would lose touch with me, or think that I wasn’t as interested in spending time with them.

“These days my friends don’t seem to know me without my suitcase in my hand
and where I am standing still I seem to disappear…”

The lines that I find really great are:

“I used to think someone would love me for the places I have been
and the dirt that I’ve been gathering deep beneath my nails”

More overtones of travel, here…seeking meaning in the world at large, but realizing that what you want and need is either at home, or there waiting for you once you actually make one.  I really love the way that he uses fingernails and dirt as a metaphor for work, travel, and experience.

Dawes is an all-American band that loves to play music, period.  They write good songs, perform them well, and have the work ethic of any awesomely classic band from days gone by.  My wife and I saw them perform in York a year or so ago.  They were touring on their first record, but played some songs off this one.  They are every bit as good live as they are in their recordings, which is no easy feat.  I think part of my love of them has to do with the fact that they spend more time writing and performing good songs than they do in the studio – and when they do spend time in the studio, they try to make it sound like a real live show by using classic analog recording techniques.  They are truly a band behind the times, in a good way.

That’s why I enjoy this album so much, and why I consider it a solid piece of work from start to finish.  It’s a textural journey, a standalone album of songs that are great on their own, but enhanced by being able to experience them together.

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