We’re All Gonna Die
Reviewed by: Asher Wolf
Dawes excels at every aspect of music making not taught in a theory class. Their tunes are usually built on simple progressions that provide an instantly gratifying basis for the lyrical and stylistic substance that has garnered the band its well-deserved reputation. Such aural comfort food is common in the country/folk-rock tradition, and following in suit, Dawes prefers not to screw with the listener’s expectations more than they have to.
It is therefore out of character for the group to have progressed and diversified their sound to the degree that they have on their fifth LP, We’re All Gonna Die. From the first gurgles of the fuzz bass build-up on the title track, “One Of Us”, Dawes telegraphs a radical departure from the guitar-driven Americana tone they have comfortably fostered over the last decade. When the beat drops, the song’s country bone structure becomes audible beneath the club music production like a poorly disguised Christmas present, but the band pulls it off as a quirky reimagining of their sound rather than a half-baked attempt at evolution.
And to be fair, though the structure and musical vocabulary of We’re All Gonna Die is thoroughly consistent with Dawes’ earlier work (probably still written on an acoustic guitar), the band is persistently creative with its presentation this time around. “One Of Us” suggests the kind of folk to indie transition epitomized by Mumford & Sons and My Morning Jacket, but the title track veers off into the realm of alt-pop with an oceanic bass line and a spare, digital sounding drum part. The song winds down to a wistful refrain, lush harmony vocals supporting Taylor Goldsmith as he languidly croons “We’re all gonna die.”
Suddenly, “Roll With the Punches” spits out a string of dirty, gutterul blues licks, veering the album into deep groove territory. “Picture of a Man” is equally subversive of the record’s presumed sound, with muffled clicks and pops adding an electronica texture to the country-rock staples of organ and distorted guitar. The second half of the album is less eclectic, as each remaining track elaborates on a separate region of stylistic grab bag established from the outset.
With their eagerly multifaceted palette, Dawes snatches up different production vibes like children at a burst pinata, but there is enough of a common thread amongst the tracks to keep the album cohesive and to qualify it as a singular aesthetic statement. Most notably, the entire thing is bass-driven. Griffin Goldsmith’s tastefully minimalist drumming highlights Wylie Gelber’s hip, contagious bass lines, which propel each song like an easygoing but powerful motor, imbuing them with the fundamental atmosphere upon which the other musicians embellish. The band’s signature guitar frolicking still adorns tracks including “Quitter” and “Roll With the Punches”, but the album’s bass-centrism, amplified by immaculate bottom heavy production, creates a spaciousness that is distinct from Dawes’ typical wall-of-sound strategy. This quality allows for more ambitious arrangements regarding everything from meticulous details to orchestral swells. Slower tracks, like “Roll Tide”, start as a trickle and end up gushing, due to the band’s mature ability to sculpt the momentum of each piece.
And finally, there is the matter of what hasn’t changed. Namely, the group’s superb, incisive lyrics—the meat of the album. Dawes has a penchant for fortune-cookie lyrics; one-liners that are memorable enough to carry the song on their own. “Picture of a Man” cleverly mocks western masculinity (“I picked a fight with myself like a real roughneck.”), while “One Of Us” opens with a delightfully bitter turn of phrase: “Your mother finally took all of her money/And put it where her mouth used to be.” The value of most lyrics on We’re All Gonna Die is readily apparent, lending a sense of intelligence and superior craftsmanship to the project. The aesthetic experimentation is enough to distinguish this release, but in essence, Dawes has stuck to a formula that continues to win.