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Stories Don’t End is grounded in reflection. It gathers neatly into a space that rings honest and hopeful that all things, fall wherever they may, end up where they need to be. The third album from Californian band Dawes is crisp in both sound and it’s sentiments. Produced by Jacquire King (who’s most frequently recognized for working with Kings of Leon), the assembly of sounds deliver a steady soft-rock aesthetic rooted in good ol’ Americana. In it’s entirety, the album takes a confident position with its arrangements and emotional perspective.
In “Just Beneath the Surface,” the album’s opening track, you’re asked to question if “maybe there’s a part of you you didn’t know you were clinging to?” And from this point on, the album unravels methodically, each track serving as a picture within a grander picture of narratives that coalesce and diverge all at once. Taylor Goldsmith’s vocals are of particular importance, he assumes a variety of perspectives throughout the album as he sings not only what appears to be his experiences but that of others in his emotional and physical proximity. He sings smoothly and consistently, and with a few exceptions the reverb is minimal and his voice remains at the forefront.
Stories Don’t End successfully maneuvers between the uncertainties of static and transitory life. This is most notable in “From a Window Seat” as Goldsmith observes from the inside of a plane the faces of fellow passengers and the million swimming pools that dot the landscape below. He applies a narrative to the flight attendants whose emergency procedure he likens to “an ancient dance their bloodline reaches through” and assumes a birthday as the occasion for a stranger’s travel. He weaves together a song reflective of the different spaces we inhabit and the conversations and memories in stasis which inhabit us. The tempo throughout is steady and upbeat, most favorably the bass serves as it’s melodic backbone and the punctuated guitar riffs mesh into an easy groove reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac.
A cover of Blake Mills’s “Hey Lover” appears at the center of the album and it is a faithful rendition and possible salutation to the past collaboration between him and Goldsmith. Griffin Goldsmith’s vocals step forward in this song as he and his brother share verses. Griffin’s vocals are of a slightly higher pitch and in his interpretation the humor of Mills’s lyrics is accentuated. This very action propels the song’s energy into more playful territory and one can feel the enthusiasm and admiration from which it’s conceived.
The cover is followed by perhaps the album’s most melancholic song, “Bear Witness,” which provides a nice contrast in mood. Here, Dawes abilities to achieve both audible and diegetic curves becomes apparent. A subtle cry heard after the second verse accentuates the nuances of Goldsmith’s words as he sings, “Some nights get worse than others/ and I start thinking about your mother…as if the world revealed it’s secret/ and it’s asking me to keep it.” One can’t help but assume an unavoidable sense of loss between the two people in this song, and because the situation is unclear you’re forced to interact with the very uneasiness the characters face. The song’s ambiguity functions effectively here alongside the softer arrangement of a two-note guitar lick resonating amid a loose snare that treads like worn footsteps.
The heroes (to borrow Goldsmith’s own term) which inhabit the album are reliable, and when in question, they feel too much like someone close to you it’s hard to perceive them otherwise. We see how the slight indiscretions of these characters, however harmful, are bound to good intentions. They own up to their flaws, as in the title track where Goldsmith proclaims, “If I tried to show every side of you through words of a song I’d say a fraction of what I’d intend.” An open acknowledgment of one’s often flawed capacity for truthful reflection. This sentiment parallels nicely with the jazzy crash cymbal that showers the verses and the full, acoustic strums where each string is clear.
The dose of vintage sounds in Stories Don’t End is refreshing and is balanced with fine layers of clean production and musical arrangement. At times the vocals are revealing of their country influence in harmony and melody. The twang guitar oscillates between warm acoustics and clean, bluesy drive tones, and the seventies rock influence pops up in the Hammondesque organ heard throughout. All this convergence is tempered and it walks steadily through each experience that is spoken. Appropriately so, the album art shows the band surrounding a fire. After the last ember goes out we know the story will continue—it might not be ours in detail, but we’re reminded nonetheless, of the ways in which we are a part of someone else’s.