"I'M GOING TO DO this for a really long time," explains Al James. The man behind Dolorean is unfazed, both by the struggles he has endured for his art and more literally in name, often crediting himself as Al James the Unfazed. "I have been going by 'Al James the Unfazed' just to be annoying, I guess. I really do feel that way though. You have a band that's almost been together for 10 years, you take a little break and then some band from Spain steals your name. They wear headbands, neon tank tops, get 'Best New Music' in Pitchfork, and sell out festivals—you can't care. It's absurd."
James, of course, speaks of Barcelona's Delorean—the band with the moniker true to the winged-door automobile of ironic yore—whose emergence came during some much-needed downtime for Dolorean. The Portland band's 2007 release You Can't Win was an emotionally punishing, hide-all-the-sharp-objects jab at heartbreak, the sort of draining recording that battered its listeners and probably took an even heftier toll on James himself. A break was needed. When the unfazed members—Jay Clarke (keyboards), Benny Nugent (drums), and James Adair (bass)—reconvened to record what would eventually become full-length number four, The Unfazed, things didn't go quite as James had planned.
"We started it, got about halfway finished, and we weren't really happy with it. So we scrapped it and started over again," says James. "I think we needed a little break. I needed a break. I needed to just get regrouped." This second-chance recording process worked wonders for The Unfazed, which focuses on James' taut and vulnerable songwriting, yet offers a hint of optimism not experienced on the heavy-hearted You Can't Win. Much like longtime friend and peer Willy Vlautin, James' gift for songwriting seems culled from unwritten novels, delineative tales rich with prose far superior to the contents normally discovered inside an album's liner notes.
"I feel like some of the songs are definitely more positive," explains James. "There are a couple that are harder, or more brutal, than anything I've ever written, but there's sort of this sheen of production that glosses them over a little bit." Perhaps this is the difference between You Can't Win and The Unfazed. The previous album felt like listening to a poetic suicide note, while the latter intertwines the painful and the beautiful, but does so with a slight air of hopefulness. This is best captured by "If I Find Love," in which James explains that he derives "no pleasure in pain" before finally singing the song's wondrous chorus: "If I find love I'm gonna make it mine."
On the impeccable breakup ballad "Country Clutter," James softly declares, "I have moved out/Packed up my shit/If you find anything I left behind/Well, you can have it/Let it clutter up your life/The way you cluttered up mine." Given its tempered instrumentation, the song's venomous lyrics take a moment to settle, but its impact leaves a quivering wake in its path—no wonder James credits it as the "hardest song" he has ever written. The album's title track follows, deflecting the blow with a sweetly sincere tale of a pair of lovers with "nothing to lose" at the track, which eventually spills over to a bar, a well-fed jukebox, and a night of dancing close until last call. It's at this moment, amid the desperation and veiled hope which permeate The Unfazed, that James comes clean: "Unfazed by debts that I'll never pay/Unfazed by blond hair turning gray/Unfazed by dreams we left behind/Unfazed by jokes with no punchline/Unfazed by death she's my blushing bride/Unfazed by living until I die."