SXSW: Dawes Bring a Taste of Topanga to Austin

5:25 PM PST 03/13/2013 by Jeff Miller
Noah Abrams
From left: Taylor Goldsmith, Tay Strathairn, Griffin Goldsmith, Wylie Gelber

"Time spent in Los Angeles" has helped hone the band's throwback sound. They play South By Southwest in advance of new album, "Stories Don't End," out in April.

Dawes, the Los Angeles band at the forefront of a full-on folk revival that harkens back to the Laurel and Topanga Canyon sound of the 1970s, has come into its own after a rough start as the former, more rocking outfit Simon Dawes. That's thanks in large part to singer Taylor Goldsmith, whose guitar-face rock anachronisms used to feel grating, but now have become as honest and charming as his melodies, which glide effortlessly through falsetto bridges and harmonic-tenor choruses. Close your eyes and take in the vibes echoing through valleys even as they reach for mountaintops.

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The band is preparing to release its third full-length, Stories Don't End, next month, and at the annual Paste showcase at The Stage On Sixth during South By Southwest, they previewed a few of the songs, which follow the breezy format of predecessors like “Time Spent In Los Angeles” (from 2011's Nothing Is Wrong). At the same time, the tunes are imbued with a maturity that fans -- and probably Dawes members themselves -- have been striving for ever since they broke through with 2009's North Hills.

They opened with one of those new songs, a mid-tempo roller that found Goldsmith using callback wordplay to tell a well-worn tale of admitting where you stand in a relationship. “If I don't tell you I'm falling in love/Someone will,” he sang throughout, finishing with, “If you don't want me after tonight/Someone will,” a minor turn of phrase that is an identifier of how major of a songwriting talent he is. This is a man following his idols (among them Jackson Browne, whom Dawes has spent much of the last two years both touring with and backing), trends be damned.

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After the mostly-mellow set, Goldsmith told The Hollywood Reporter that they purposely omitted the more rocking portion of their song arsenal on the table for other SXSW shows, but the lack of range was anything but jarring: if nothing else, it was a respite from the barrage of deafening distortion hanging over downtown Austin like a cloud. With woozy, groovy backbeats (Goldsmith's brother, Griffin, is the band's ace drummer) and noodle-y, progressive, clean-toned guitar solos opening up musical doors many have walked through before, but few do with such a knowing, meandering eye to both the past and future.

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