Stories Don’t End
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Stream the album
Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith is one of those songwriters who are almost preternaturally self-aware about the pitfalls in life and the self-delusions and innate flaws that lead one there, yet his characters keep falling into those traps. That’s a good thing for his craft, because he’ll never run out of fodder for his meticulously-crafted lyrics that way.
On Stories Don’t End, Dawes’ highly-anticipated third album, the bulk of Goldsmith’s ruminations and recriminations have to do with matters of the heart, making it a kind of concept album about the distance between the ideals of love and the stark reality of modern relationships. By the time the gentle strains of “Just Beneath The Surface (Reprise)” fade out, it feels like this particular love affair has run its course simply because there is nothing left for the narrator to explore.
Such earnestness is what Dawes fans bank on, of course. It’s hard to deny the results when they swing for the cheap seats, as they do on sweeping, dramatic ballads like the title track and “Something In Common.” If some of the metaphors and similes are strained, if Goldsmith’s buried emotions sometimes come to the surface a bit clumsily, it’s all forgivable. After all, in an era when bands bury their vocals in the mix and wear their nonchalance as a badge of honor, it’s refreshing to see a band whose worst musical sin is maybe trying a bit too hard to say just what they want to say.
Jacquire King was brought in to produce Stories Don’t End, and he’s a guy who has proven, especially in his work with Kings Of Leon, his ability to super-charge choruses to the arena rafters, and you can hear a little bit of that on the more rocking version of “Just Beneath The Surface” and “From The Right Angle.” For the most part, King keeps the instrumental flourishes and any sonic embellishments to the minimum to enhance the impact of Goldsmith’s stories.
When Dawes, which also includes Goldsmith’s brother Griffin on drums, Wylie Gelber on bass, and Tay Strathairn on keyboards, does vary from the mid-tempo moves they learned well from Late For The Sky-era Jackson Browne, the results are mixed. First single “From A Window Seat” rides an effectively chunky piano groove that sounds like early Steely Dan as the singer deals with his existential malaise while surveying the world from a landing plane (and earns a big plus for his birds-eye assessment of his hometown of LA: “Just buildings and a million swimming pools.”) On the other hand, an attempt at acoustic picking on “Someone Will” comes off as toothless.
Goldsmith has a unique ability, and again the Browne comparison is apt here, to extrapolate an entire spectrum of emotions from a snapshot. On the lovely weeper “Just My Luck,” his ex’s arrival at a party throws him into a fit of hapless rationalizing about where it all went wrong. It’s the album’s high point, in part because the songwriter, for once, doesn’t have all the answers.
There’s a lovely moment in the title track where Goldsmith, trapped in a swirl of piano and guitars, sings “Stories don’t end/They go on and on/Just someone stops listening.” It’s just a small part of the song, yet it conveys his intended message about the lonely aftermath of break-ups just as well if not better than all the phrased-just-so reflections that preceded it. Dawes can take a lesson from that, but Stories Don’t End is still a step forward, if only for the moments of off-the-cuff brilliance that result from all the ambitious effort.