California rockers Dawes are, first and foremost, incredible storytellers. Though they make chill music— drawing comparisons to bands like The Eagles— they’ve concocted a code for artfully emotional rock that combines elements of folk, arena rock, Americana, and country. Singer Taylor Goldsmith is a vivid lyricist, comparable to the likes of Josh Tillman and Jason Isbell. Through his words, Dawes explore an ever-evolving sensitivity.
Up to this point, the band have released five narrative-rich studio LPs—plus a live album—and this Friday, June 22, they’ll put out a sixth, Passwords. In honor of the band’s newest release (and its riddle-laden rollout), we’re ranking the very best of their material. Here are our 12 favorite songs.
This song sees Dawes employing one of their greatest talents: the blending of indie folk and classic rock. From their second LP, Nothing Is Wrong, “My Way Back Home” could be the band’s best acoustic ballad if it weren’t for the pinch of electric guitar work added for texture.
This nifty examination of L.A.’s superficial culture invokes godliness as a way to contrast California stereotypes and connect to the more remote North Hills, the neighborhood from which the band emerged (and which inspired their first full-length album).
Uncredited vocals from Lucius and Mandy Moore (now Taylor Goldsmith’s fiancee`) add serious depth to this track from Dawes’ most recent LP, We’re All Gonna Die. Almost every musical aspect of this song is boundary-pushing for the band: the female vocal parts, the entirely new use of the antiquated organ sounds, the guitar posed as a flamboyant horn section, and the locomotive tempo.
For Alabamians, “Roll Tide” is more than just the battle cry of The University of Alabama Crimson Tide; it’s also a greeting and a way of life. On this track, Dawes uses the phrase in a new way: as a swift goodbye to an ex-partner’s new Alabama-born beau. The song balances heartbreak with humor as Goldsmith sings, “He doesn’t know he’s just a place for you to hide / You wanna tell him ‘Best of luck, man, Roll Tide.’”
The best Dawes songs are the ones that experiment with ideas as well as sound. “Right On Time” exhibits another very Dawesian idea: that love can appear out of nowhere, and arrive with a punch straight to the teeth.
“A Little Bit of Everything” is an all-encompassing summary of feelings, time, people and the way they interact with each other. Taylor Goldsmith is very much a fan of the declarative, and on this track he calls everything as it is, never beating around the bush.
“When My Times Comes” makes space for us to consider the overwhelming chasm that is life, offering an eschewal of control as an anecdote for coping with life’s shortcomings. For Dawes, the power lies in the ability to confront that abyss head on: “Oh, you can judge the whole world on the sparkle that you think it lacks. Yes, you can stare into the abyss, but it’s starin’ right back.” Dawes hope that if you just look closer, you might find the beauty in the mundane.
There are a million ways to write a love song, but “All Your Favorite Bands” has to be one of the most extraordinary. The narrator’s unwillingness to hate an ex-partner is so powerful that it transcends their quarrels and evolves into a new love. This song pairs well with “A Little Bit Of Everything,” both in ideology and in the songs’ mutual display of shy keys interrupted by a lengthy guitar solo.
“Things Happen” finds Dawes driving out to Oakland to sort out some issues, but you don’t need to be familiar with California roadways to recognize the feeling of things falling apart. Through these personal details and a few clever similes (“Like an honest signature on a fake ID”), this song does a really great thing: offers catharsis.
This may be one of the band’s more complex songs of the last few years. The guitar and pedal techniques are excellent, and the absolute rawness of the narrator’s plea is potent. Bordering on falsetto, Goldsmith sounds even more desperate as he cries, “Your ashes in my ashtray / I’m there with you wherever you are.”
With its impeccable sludgy guitar and stellar sing-song verse, “If I Wanted Someone” is one of Dawes’ finest. Goldsmith sings, “If I wanted someone to clean me up I’d find myself a maid, If I wanted someone to spend my money I wouldn’t need to get paid, If I wanted someone to understand me I’d have so much more to say…” There’s nothing fogging the song’s true intentions: “I want you to make the days move easy…”
Once again, “Roll With the Punches” finds Goldsmith offering simple advice for dealing with life’s challenges: just keep going. The track’s fusing of old and new sounds makes for a weighty listen, but the reward is worth it.