To call Dawes a folk rock band would be to overlook many of the talents that allow them to stand out among their contemporaries. Frontman Taylor Goldsmith’s guitar and substantive lyrics have always been at the band’s core, but each song is brought to life by the band as a unit exploring whatever sonic avenues suit them at that particular moment in time. The band’s 2009 debut North Hills was home-recorded and is as lo-fi of a record as there is. The following decade has seen the band take influence from jam bands, hip hop, and good old fashioned rock and roll. Now on their seventh studio album, Good Luck With Whatever feels like a summation of the band’s sonic explorations matched with reflective lyrics.
Album-opener “Still Feel Like a Kid” finds Goldsmith holding onto his sense of childlike wonder, in spite of his “dreams of coaching little league” and constant soreness. Wylie Gelber’s driving rhythm anchors the song, while “ba-ba-ba” harmonies courtesy of drummer Griffin Goldsmith and keyboardist Lee Pardini add that extra youthful punch. The tune is so garage rock you can almost smell the ethanol. Fittingly, Goldsmith blames his position as a singer in a rock and roll band on the titular state of mind.
Perhaps the most poignant song in the lot, “St. Augustine at Night” explores the tragic elements of growing up. The song kicks off with an innocent-enough image of children masking cigarettes and beer with chewing gum and 7 Up. As our singer matures, so do the ills. “Our oldest brother left this world for living one too many lives/ I guess he settled for none at all/ The rest of us just grew apart and blamed our husbands and our wives/ When anyone was asked why they don’t call” is a heartbreaking lyric that stands in deep contrast to the sweet memories evoked at the song’s beginning. Backed only by Goldsmith’s acoustic guitar and Pardini’s piano, the music remains appropriately graceful and understated.
Pardini’s contributions are a joy throughout the album. Pardini joined the band in time to contribute a wide range of synthesizer sounds for the band’s fifth album We’re All Gonna Die and continued to add unique textures for 2018’s Passwords, but he largely sticks to piano and organ here on Good Luck With Whatever. It’s incredible dynamic Pardini can be within these restrictions – from rocking out in the coda of “Who Do You Think You’re Talking To?” to pensively shadowing the central guitar riff in “Didn’t Fix Me.”
On Good Luck With Whatever, producer Dave Cobb has reconciled the band’s interest in exploring a wide range of sonic textures with the strength of the songs themselves. There are wonderfully weird guitar tones you might not have heard before, but there are also those beautiful harmony vocals that are to blame for the Laurel Canyon association pinned to the band since their debut. This all goes to say that Good Luck With Whatever holds a little bit of everything for any Dawes fan, whether you hold tight to the Neil Young-esque “Peace in the Valley” from 2009’s North Hills or the fusion-heavy “Telescope” from 2018’s Passwords. Good Luck With Whatever reminds us why Dawes is one of the best rock bands working today, and why they have been deserving of that title for eleven years and counting.
Good Luck With Whatever is out on Rounder Records. Get your copy here.