Album Review

Dawes "Nothing is Wrong"

Brian Ahnmark
As Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith hinted – repeatedly – that the band’s sophomore effort would be “aggressive,” no one noticed the mischievous twinkle in his eye.

North Hills, Dawes’ acclaimed 2009 debut, was not aggressive. It was, however, indisputably brilliant, a wistful blend of acoustic and electric instrumentation framing Goldsmith’s introspective poetry. It felt at once familiar and utterly necessary, like the welcome homecoming of an old friend.

Nothing Is Wrong, the band’s second LP, is also not aggressive. It is, however, indisputable proof of Dawes’ staying power. This is songcraft at its finest; words with meaning and feeling, melodies that leave an indelible impression.

Apparently, Dawes did not get the memo that this was supposed to be the record plagued by the “sophomore slump,” derailed by the pressure to replicate and eclipse the success of the debut. Dawes, clearly immune to such quibbles, has instead delivered a work glowing with warmth and brimming with an uncommon confidence. It’s a sweet summer breeze of a record, designed for spinning with the windows down.

Scary thought: Dawes is getting better. And they’re going to keep getting better.

Nothing Is Wrong was recorded largely live to tape, capturing at least a hint of the Dawes stage monster (which could never truly be harnessed on tape. Or Pro Tools. Or any recorded medium). Two years of road testing turned these songs into lean beasts. Upon first listen, the sheer restraint displayed throughout is a bit damning, as the ear craves the live crunch. Ultimately, that restraint proves sage – allowing the songs to breathe, revealing miniscule nuances.

Highlights abound. “How Far We’ve Come” struts buoyantly on Wylie Gelber's bass groove, with lead vocals by drummer Griffin Goldsmith, fraternal harmonies by Taylor, and a sprightly keyboard solo by Alex Casnoff (since replaced by original keyboardist Tay Strathairn). “My Way Back Home” and “Fire Away” show off the band’s Midas touch with an anthem, and the chorus of “So Well” features the loveliest harmonies of the year. It’s a rare delight to find a band that writes with such patience, striving to secure the elusive ingredients that transform good to great. (Case in point: The spine-tingling falsetto bridge of “My Way Back Home,” jarringly placed after an enormous percussion crescendo.)

The momentum lulls a tad on the latter half. “The Way You Laugh” ambles too politely in the penultimate slot, which begs for something with a little more bite. And the inclusion of “Million Dollar Bill” is particularly peculiar, considering that Taylor had already recorded and released a stunning rendition of the song with side project Middle Brother in March. B-sides “All My Failures” and “Strangers Getting Stranger,” inexplicably relegated to the scrap pile, would’ve substituted nicely here.

Thankfully, closer “A Little Bit of Everything” showcases everything that makes Dawes great. The piano-driven epic is a melodically and lyrically flawless blend of the melancholy and celebratory.

What a joy it will be watching this band blossom in coming years.