DAWES — “We’re All Gonna Die”
THE GOOD: Los-Angeles folk-rockers Dawes release their fifth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: This might be their best album yet. That claim is highly subjective, but I don’t ever remember a Dawes set sounding this focused. The melodies are bolder and brighter, and the arrangements are airtight. On more than one occasion, the lyrics spin compelling tales of everyday challenges along with human triumphs and tragedies. Tracks like “Less Than Five Miles Away” and “For No Good Reason” boast tiny, vivid vignettes starring lovers, criminals, the lonely, the forgotten and a host of other interesting players.
The only gripe long-time fans may have with “Die” is that the rock elements dominate the acoustic sounds this time. “One of Us” possesses genuine guitar bite. Swirling reggae organs add color to “Picture of a Man.” A pre-Beatle R&B swing lurks beneath the beat of “As If by Design.” Yet Dawes makes these slight alterations work extremely well within the already strong compositions.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
LEWIS DEL MAR — “Lewis Del Mar”
THE GOOD: Lewis Del Mar is a band, not a guy. Or more specifically, it’s a duo consisting of co-writers/producers/multi-instrumentalists Danny Miller and Max Harwood. This self-titled effort is their slightly flawed debut.
THE BAD: “Lewis” is a good start, but these guys are still carving out their own distinct style.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Conceived and recorded in and around the pair’s Rockaway Beach, New York, bungalow, the record is a multi-layered mix of lo-fi drums and beat-box loops, electric and acoustic guitars and “found sounds” (subways, ambient noise, random conversations, etc.) grabbed up around the five boroughs.
The tunes fall somewhere between indie rock and modern roots music. I’m detecting echoes of Red Hot Chili Peppers within the vocals and the slap-dash blues of G. Love and Special Sauce spread across the backing swagger. There’s a cool attitude running through these tracks (even the more angst-riddled ones such as “Loudy”) — just another day of jamming and kicking it in the sunshine.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
BON IVER — “22, a Million”
THE GOOD: Indie folk outfit Bon Iver (still the brainchild of singer/songwriter Justin Vernon) finally follows up its Grammy Award-winning sophomore effort, “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” (2011).
THE BAD: Nothing, but keep an open mind.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band’s music has come full circle. Bon Iver was an acoustic act musicians from other genres wholly embraced. Kanye West even sampled and gave its track “Woods” an almost complete makeover. So now, “22, a Million” finds Vernon and his crew using the electronic. The album is filled with unexpected samples, loops and icy affected voices (and saxophones).
The overall effect isn’t so much “Dylan goes electric” but rather a guitar-based band smashing all expectations and embracing dissonant sounds. Many reviewers are calling this record Bon Iver’s “Kid A,” and that’s not too far off the mark. It’s also a starkly personal set. Underneath all the studio reverberations, Vernon’s songs speak of conflict resolution, tragedies and opaque predictions — not exactly “switched-on fluff.”
BUY IT?: You must.