Passwords is Dawes’ fifth record of the 2010s—and their fifth great one. It’s also the first time that they haven’t taken a substantial leap forward in terms of sound or approach. Ever since their 2011 breakthrough, Nothing Is Wrong, Dawes have been switching producers with every record, always searching for that new groove. Nothing Is Wrong was a wash of gorgeous 70s-influenced Laurel Canyon folk, earning the band almost as many comparisons to Jackson Browne as Brian Fallon got to Bruce Springsteen. 2013’s Stories Don’t End had flickers of a 90s folk rock record, modernizing and streamlining the band’s songs with a more studio-driven approach. 2015’s All Your Favorite Bands went in the opposite direction, embracing the band’s live, jam-oriented roots for a record full of loose guitar solos and spontaneous energy. And 2016’s We’re All Gonna Die brought in mad scientist producer Blake Mills (Alabama Shakes, Perfume Genius, John Legend) for a bold, expectation-shattering disc—a career left-turn that prompted at least a few comparisons to U2’s Achtung Baby.
I’m of the mind that no artist—band or solo—has had a more stellar run this decade than Dawes. After debuting in 2009 with the promising North Hills, the Los Angeles quartet fired off Nothing Is Wrong (2011), Stories Don’t End (2013), and All Your Favorite Bands (2015) in the space of just under four years. Not only are all of those records among the best of the decade so far, but they are also all markedly different from one another. Nothing Is Wrong is pitch-perfect Laurel Canyon folk rock, emulating Jackson Browne so successfully that Browne actually agreed to provide backing vocals on a track. Stories Don’t End took the band’s sound in a more modern, studio-driven pop direction, while last year’s All Your Favorite Bands was an Americana road trip of a record that returned the band to their live, improv-heavy roots. The latter features arguably the best playing of any rock album released since 2010.