Recommended Albums #7

North Hills (Dig)

Dawes: North Hills (2009)

In keeping with the trend of extolling mostly albums with either black or beige-ish covers, I present Los Angeles band Dawes’ 2009 debut, North Hills.

When I think of the various types of musical talent, the visual in my head is a triangle–but let’s call it a pyramid, ’cause nobody talks about the Food Triangle or the Inverted Triangle Of Global Liquidity. Pyramids are clearly cooler than simple triangles.

At the base of my Pyramid Of Musical Talent are competent vocalists. As the glut of singing-competition TV shows suggests, there are a lot of people out there who’ve been blessed with the ability to carry a tune (although I think these shows are the death bell for subtlety and nuanced song interpretation, but that’s another rant).

Above good singers in the pyramid are proficient instrumentalists. Seems like every third kid you meet can plug in and shred to one degree or another (although he has a sister and a girlfriend who can sing).

Above the people who can play, in the more rarified third tier of the triangle pyramid, are those who can compose an original, hummable melody. The writers of credible pop tunes are less common than the musicians who can play them, and much less so than those who can sing them. That’s why in, say, the 60′s there were far fewer Burt Bacharachs than Dionne Warwicks–as great a singer as she was, she was luckier to get to sing his songs than he was to have her sing them. Burt wrote timeless pop standards sung by Dusty Springfield, Jackie DeShannon, B.J. Thomas and many others. Warwick arguably never sang a classic song unless Bacharach (and David) wrote it. Without the melody the singer is irrelevant.

And because I believe gifted lyricists are an even rarer phenomenon than good composers, the topmost penthouse of my Pyramid Of Musical Talent is reserved for people who can write words like these:

So I am taking off my wristwatch/To let the time move how I please/To let my day be guided by the sunlight/Through morning’s bell and twilight’s soft release//So if you want to get to know me/Follow my smile down into its curves/All these lines are born in sorrows and pleasures/And every man ends up with the face that he deserves


So find me when you welcome back your roots/And I will be where all of your ends meet/I want the feeling waking next to you/I want to find my children at your feet


I will move somewhere the ocean’s never seen/Somewhere weeds just make their claims/Where my best friends exist only on screen/Where my love all fits in frames

Comparatively speaking, a new artist or band will frequently catch my attention with a distinctive sound or sticky melody. But seldom do lyrics penetrate to the forefront as they do here. And Dawes seem to construct their songs with this in mind–the arrangements are clean and restrained, with every instrument and voice put in service of the song. This is not a band interested in showing off by stepping out for the flashy solo or the over-the-top vocal performance. Think of Creedence Clearwater Revival who, with the rare exception, eschewed lead solos in favor of forming a good, solid pocket for the lyric. Jackson Browne will come to mind, too. Dawes seems to have borrowed his lyric-focused style and vocal sound, while happily avoiding the melodrama quotient that can make large doses of Browne’s stuff a bit tedious.

The band has a knack for an appealing turn of melody too. The album was recorded “live to tape” to achieve an organic, relaxed California Rock sound that should appeal to fans of the Eagles or Neil Young’s gentler tunes. Above all, I’d call it authentic. In a world of ear-candy, Dawes is making ear-nutrition that goes down real easy.

See also:

Listen to: “When You Call My Name”


Listen to: “My Girl To Me”


Listen to: “If You Let Me Be Your Anchor”

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Christine Clements
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 08:18:28

    Love It!


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