When I saw Seattle band Slender Means open up for The New Pornographers in December, I scanned across the crowd to find that most heartwarming scene in all of indie-rockdom: the rocker mom. Rocker moms are easy to spot, as they’re usually the only people in the room over 40 who’re singing along word for word, beaming with pride for their kid up on stage.
When I asked writer/vocalist/guitarist Josh Dawson about this, he just laughed, saying “Actually, I think there were two or three of our moms in the crowd that night.”
Dawson is no stranger to the Seattle music scene, haunting clubs and waiting tables for the last 10 years in the pursuit of his musical dreams. He says he’s finally hit his stride with Slender Means, some of the most accomplished and talented musicians he’s ever played with.
Slender Means’ album “Neon & Ruin,” released late last year, is a powerful and sophisticated debut, as passionate as it is rocking. Dawson’s voice, equal parts Morrissey and Bono, delivers his soulful lyrics with convincing brash and bravado.
The themes of Dawson’s songs are familiar enough — love and loss, joy and anguish, pride and sorrow — but still fresh. The album’s quick opener, “Telepathic Lovesick Heart,” explores the notions of regret for love never shared, like reading a love letter 20 years too late.
A few tracks later, “I Could Be Cruel” takes on the flip side of the fickleness of the human heart. “Just come back I know you’ve been wanting to / despite the fact / that you say you’re happier than you've been in years / I could be cruel / and throw all your love letters away.” Dawson’s lyrics play the tricks our minds play when dealing with human emotion, and they do it over soaring guitar melodies with just the perfect amount of twang.
“Painless Life” falls directly in the middle of the album, riding a wave of driving guitars and just enough synth to lend the song ’80s revivalist cred without forcing too many painful flashbacks. This one’s meant to close the show down, leaving the crowd on a high, satirically extolling the virtues of a soma-like pain-free existence.
Following is the best track on the album, “Molecules,” with some of the most soaring and searching lyrics. Dawson really stretches himself here, lyrically and vocally, over a tight, happily melancholy arrangement.
The songs on “Neon & Ruin” are compact, with just a few hitting the three-minute mark, but dense with meaning. Complementing Dawson’s rich vocals is an incredibly tight musical arrangement, which is surprising, considering that this is a debut effort.
The band is taking some time to tour this spring, culminating in Austin this spring where they’ll be playing in as many local bars as they can with half a million of their closest friends in town for South by Southwest. Dawson says he’s also in no hurry to rush out another album any time soon, preferring to keep honing the music until it’s ready. Even though he’s started writing new material, he’s convinced that “the next record should be better than this one, by far.”
For more information on Slender Means, visit: http://www.slendermeans.com/.