[19 December 2006]
Simon Dawes, a four-piece outfit from California, make a statement with Carnivore. The group has toured alongside Eisley, the Like, Band of Horses, and Phantom Planet, and there is much to be found in common among these groups: all share a talent for taking seemingly simple melodies or familiar chord changes and transforming them into something genuinely unique and personal.
A lot of songs in this world are catchy or innovative. Oftentimes a few songs on an album will be brilliantly challenging or ridiculously creative. But it is becoming increasingly rare in the world of indie rock for an entire album to mean something, as a whole. Simon Dawes accomplish just that with Carnivore; it is a set of twelve songs full of meaningful music in an increasingly un-meaningful world.
It is easy to pack songs with pop hooks and impressive fills and cut an album of ten or twelve solid songs. However, it’s much more admirable when a band succeeds in creating a diverse mix of music where each song is unique in structure, style, and meaning yet still achieves a common theme. Simon Dawes have mastered the laid-back jam, the blues burner, the pop piece—they do it all well (and at such a young age—none of Simon Dawes’ members have been legally drinking for more than a year, but the powerful punch packed on Carnivore could have easily fooled me).
The album starts off strong with “Save Your Ticket” and “The Awful Things”, two medium solid rockers. “Salute the Institution” is the first track displaying the boys’ unique style. They find a place on the backside of the beat and linger there for the entire song; the guitars are never too flashy and the drums are never too wild, but the groove is nearly irresistible.
The boys’ pain is revealed in “All Her Crooked Ways” with sorrowful lines like “I think it’s the drinking that I like / And how she never looks me in the eye / The cigarettes that helped me hear her breathing / When she is sleeping by my side”. Carnivore‘s tracks are all different but tied together with a common sound that’s a little bit dirty, a little bit bluesy, and a little bit melancholy, but always a little bit special. “Got a Light” is haunting, with some crying guitars in the background of the chorus and lovely layers of sound. The delightful romp that is “Lazy Daisy” is straight and sweet and slightly sorrowful, and the melodies flow forth easily.
The real power and maturity of Simon Dawes exposes itself in the latter half of the album. Plaintive and achingly beautiful, part of Carnivore‘s charm is that it’s never too much or over the top. “Maybe Not Today” is highlighted by short bursts of distorted guitar and then broad sweeps of simple but deliberate solo. The final minute of crying guitar is mournful and tragic and intense, but delicate as well. A gem of the album is “Every Single Time” because of a gentle blend of tragic harmonies and bittersweet lyrics:
The fear that doesn’t live in time
and that’s the realest kind
the fear that you don’t own your heart
cause you always leave it where you start
I’m harmed but unalarmed
every fear is mine
every fear is mine
every single time.
Taylor Goldsmith’s voice is subtle and never forced, softly swelling and fading amid the backgrounds, showcasing his genuine maturity.
The mood takes a 180-degree turn with “Behind the Bleachers”, a formulaic stomp that nonetheless finds a niche in your mind and lingers there for a long, long time. Lyrics like “meet me up behind the bleachers / I’ll kiss you if you want” create an illusion of meaningless pop, but the foursome cares so much about the music they’re making that the listener can’t help but care as well. “Be There Right Now” follows as one of the album’s strongest tracks through a slow build of energy into a finale of awesome dimensions and incredible songwriting.
In the press release. Goldsmith cites Dylan, Bowie, Reed, and Lennon as musical heroes because they are “each as much a storyteller as a musician”, and this influence is made clear in the closing “Execution Song”. It is a seven-minute tale of a convicted murderer on death row. Pensively strummed guitar sits under a story in which the thoughts of a man being put to death are explored, “Up and down your back you feel the spectator’s faces / You hear the slow count of three slow paces / And your brain shows you pictures of wide open spaces / Where you once shot the rifle your grandfather gave you”. Different musical ideas are added one-by-one as poignant lines like, “I’ve seen people chase dreams till their dreams are forgotten / And now I’ve seen a killer with a heavy heart” float by. The build continues into the last few minutes where fuzzy guitars, scattered drums, and sorrowful drones fill empty space with a landscape of mental images and raw sonic emotions.
Simon Dawes is aware of the power of space and time, and nothing here is ever hurried or overplayed. Bassist Wylie Gelber has just barely turned eighteen, a fact that seems almost unbelievable when considering the group’s advanced musicianship and control. Carnivore proves to be an album of true versatility and unforgettable depth—one of the best so far this year.