Album Review: Dawes’ ‘Passwords’

Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith is a man in love. This will come as no surprise to anyone who keeps regular tabs on celebrity news, or maybe even anyone with a subscription to Architectural Digest, whose new cover story is on the Pasadena “dream home” actress Mandy Moore has created for herself and her fiancé Goldsmith. It does, however, still feel like a surprise to the extent that it extensively reveals itself in the grooves of “Passwords,” his band’s sixth album and the first to be marked more by contentment than a sense of contention. Can the best breakup songwriter of his generation prove as deft at writing about coming together, too?

Before exploring that question further, it’s worth pointing out up front that Goldsmith’s apparent personal mellowing has resulted in a musically mellower collection, too. The single that was first released to tease the record, “Living in the Future,” was a pounding mid-tempo rocker driven by a crunchy guitar riff in an odd time signature … and there’s nothing else on the album like it. If you’ve ever found yourself defending Dawes to friends who think their sound isn’t nearly edgy enough for the 21st century, “Passwords” may not be the album you want to use to further that defense. It’s piano-fueled to the extent that comparisons this time around might be less to Jackson Browne — the mainstay to which all the laziest Dawes reviews inevitably drift (along with the requisite “Laurel Canyon” mention) — than to Bruce Hornsby.