Dawes’ Good Luck with Whatever came out amidst a unique time in the modern world. To me, it feels like a return to a sort of identity of growth that evokes a feeling reminiscent of their 2011 album Nothing is Wrong, or even 2015's All Your Favorite Bands, which is arguably some of their best work. I felt excited when this album came out; I had become a fan in the wake of success from All Your Favorite Bands and We’re All Gonna Die, and the latter felt like an aesthetic mismatch to me. It was fun, don’t get me wrong, and works like “Roll with the Punches” were fantastic efforts. It just didn’t sit well with me. I just feel like this is a return to the sort of band that I had come to expect from the first few albums. It’s a lot more of a rocker than the experimental We’re All Gonna Die and the softer Passwords.
Good Luck with Whatever, for all of its similarities to older Dawes, takes on a number of differences related to the maturation of the artists. As it reckons with growing up and taking on the world in a new way as an adult, it tackles unfamiliar topics in a very in-character way. With each song creating a story-like frame rooted in concrete literary detail via Taylor Goldsmith’s vocals—slightly deepened over previous albums—the band tackles topics such as mental health, coming into one’s own as an adult, and even stories about those who remain trapped within a dying small town. This pandemic has certainly brought an introspective voice to the album, not unlike their previous effort Passwords but, for me, it feels more sincere. While tracks like “Crack the Case” on the previous album certainly reflect these reflections and meditations on the self quite well, Good Luck with Whatever attacks them with a more passionate gusto and with a greater self-understanding that comes with age.
Hearing another Dawes album after the wait of a couple of years was certainly a treat during a time where I was overwhelmed. I was working on a thesis while juggling a full class load and a number of other things at the same time. I’ve been working on myself a lot, and I felt that tackling an album from a band that was so helpful to me at my low points was only fitting for a wellness day album review. I feel a lot of gratitude towards the band for tracks like “My Way Back Home” and “A Little Bit of Everything”, and I find myself grateful for this album. On a day of rest, it’s definitely an album in my rotation. I remember hearing it for the first time back in November, and I found myself absolutely floored by this effort. The maturity that these guys have made as musicians is quite strong; it feels as if, for the first time, they are recognizing their aging, and are addressing the growth they have made throughout the last decade. The relationship that has blossomed between Taylor Goldsmith and Mandy Moore has changed the nature of love in their songs from a detached perspective of heartbreak to one of reconciliation and contentment and even pride.
The strongest tracks for me are the last three on the album: “Didn’t Fix Me”, “Free as We Wanna Be”, and “Me Especially”. While I feel other tracks tie together to create a general aesthetic throughout the album, like “Still Feel Like a Kid” with “Free as We Wanna Be” and “Me Especially” or “Didn’t Fix Me” with “Between the Zero and the One”, I think these are the standout tracks. I think there are only two tracks on the whole album that could be considered weaker than the others, but all of them have charm. Even “None of My Business”, which has an interesting take on discussing the things that should really concern him, ultimately suffers from the fact that it doesn’t sit with me the way that the rest of the album does. The other tracks are all good; I just think these three stand out above the rest, with “St. Augustine at Night” being a close fourth.
“Didn’t Fix Me” presents itself as the track that the album was ultimately built around; it reflects how a relationship can help fix, but how it never “fixed me like I thought it would.” It shares the instrumentation that ties the rest of the album together, but it stands out above the rest. The lyrics punch you in the gut with a presentation of various stories, ones that would normally “fix” a person by giving them a shot of pride or happiness, but reflecting the depression that remains inside despite it all. The guitar plays along slowly, making a downbeat melody that creates the sort of attitude that fits the words best. Even finding love doesn’t fix him, even if he feels stronger for having support, and starts to take the steps to move on. On another note, the music video for the song is utterly fantastic. If you’re into the song, I feel like that video adds a whole different dimension to it. I would rank it as one of the best songs that Goldsmith has written.
“Free as We Wanna Be” is the best of the rockers, in my opinion. It is a lot sparser than the other top tracks, acting as a sort of higher-tempo parallel to “St. Augustine At Night”, and explores the topic of freedom in a time ruled by a sort of technological paranoia. Yet, I have to express my own feelings on the topic: I see it as a song that talks to the individual listening that beckons them to take a sense of control of their own lives and take the freedom that they are able to allot for themselves. I think it does soar the closest to the general “song-writing” formula, but Dawes’s strong and sometimes esoteric lyrical craft works in their favor in this case. It is certainly the catchiest of the songs on the album, save for “Didn’t Fix Me”, but I do not think that catchiness ultimately detracts from its place in the top tracks.
As for “Me Especially”, I think it is a fitting album closer. It takes on the orientation of “Didn’t Fix Me” as well as the subject matter of “Still Feel Like a Kid” and builds a downtempo ballad that soars in the chorus line. Jim James of My Morning Jacket helped to co-write this song, and I think the help that Goldsmith got in crafting this work sent it over the top to be the second-best track on the album. The lyrics evoke this feeling that there’s nothing left to hide for the songwriter and he’s coming to terms with his own mortality and his age. He feels young, but he’s still getting older, and he feels this disparity between himself and everyone else who is at the same point of life as him. The ballad-style guitar riff just adds to the emotion that comes out throughout the song, and the way the song all comes together sounds like someone trying to reckon with the fact that they’ve aged so they can piece it all together. It evokes the anxiety that we seem to feel, recognizing that the adults around us seem to know what they’re doing while we do not. It is a fitting closer for an album from the folk-rock band straddling Laurel Canyon and the Great Smoky Mountains, a group with a California style but a Carolina heart.
As the band ages, the world changes around them in a number of different ways. The attitudes of the young-adult rockers from Laurel Canyon, going on their own journey and reckoning with depressed attitudes and wistful cries toward their lives in their first albums, were bound to grow up at some point. Those sorts of attitudes cannot carry forever, and there is an air of confidence that seems to permeate this album in a way unlike any before it. This is my Wellness Day album pick: I love this album, and I am glad to see Dawes grow up alongside me. As I get ready to pack up my bags and move on from college in a couple of months, I am going to miss the opportunities that I had to spin tunes for WUSC for the past few years. Yet, I was able to grow up, just like Dawes, in the robe of the musical world and mature into someone who was more assured and confident in who I was.
As Taylor sings in the title track, “Good Luck with whatever, whatever awaits. Whatever endeavors, I’m sure you’ll do great.” I return that message to all of you.
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