When the singer and guitarist Taylor Goldsmith entered the new spy museum in Manhattan a few weeks ago — a collection that explores the many manifestations of hacking, espionage and surveillance — he couldn’t help but marvel. “This place looks so cool,” he said, “but also kind of scary.”
It’s a balance Mr. Goldsmith, 32, has been considering with great care over the last two years while writing songs for the sixth album from his band Dawes. Titled “Passwords,” the record deals with the pervasively photographed, wildly opinionated and way over-shared experience of our tech-driven lives, while making sure to avoid any glib conclusions.
“I’m not some grandpa saying, ‘This technology thing is ruining these kids’ brains,’” Mr. Goldsmith said after taking a seat in the museum’s Situation Room (i.e. its conference room). “I actually like social media, and I recognize what modern technology serves. I’m just saying, ‘Let’s have more of a conversation about it.’”
The album’s decidedly contemporary focus bears comment considering Mr. Goldsmith and Dawes have spent much of their decade-long existence being cast as fetishists of the past. Starting with its 2009 debut album, “North Hills,” this Los Angeles-based group has been both loved for, and hampered by, the clear connection between its sinewy folk-rock melodies and studiously poetic lyrics and the work of the lions of the Laurel Canyon scene, like Crosby, Stills and Nash; Warren Zevon; and, especially, Jackson Browne. For its part, Dawes has italicized the connection by collaborating, both live and in the studio, with Mr. Browne, name-checking CSN in interviews and even performing aZevon song in a tribute to him on David Letterman’s show in 2015.
“If somebody says ‘Taylor sounds like you,’ they’re missing the point,” Mr. Browne said in a phone interview. “He’s just returning to an approach to music where lyrics are more prominent, which is something that went away from popular music. With Taylor’s songs, you’re rewarded for paying attention to the words in a spectacular way.”
Mr. Goldsmith proudly owns his influences. “I would never deny the fact that listening to Jackson helped teach me how to write songs,” he said. “But I like to believe that, over the years, Dawes has come a long way toward something else.”
The band — which also includes Mr. Goldsmith’s brother Griffin on drums and close vocal harmonies, the bassist Wylie Gelber and the keyboardist Lee Pardini — began making dramatic strides with its 2016 album, “We’re All Gonna Die,” and expanded its scope on “Passwords.” Both works stretch the group’s classic-rock influences to absorb the adventurousness of Steely Dan and the sleekness of Dire Straits, greatly aided by keyboard work from the recently added Mr. Pardini. “To me, it’s refreshing to sometimes break with all the guitar songs to let the keyboards lead us,” Mr. Goldsmith said.
He has also undergone significant shifts in his personal life that are reflected in the new music. In 2015, Mr. Goldsmith began dating the actress and singer Mandy Moore, and last fall they became engaged. In both “Never Gonna Say Goodbye” and “Time Flies Either Way,” Mr. Goldsmith kisses his wanderings, and more broadly, his youth, goodbye to commit to a love he can’t see ending. That’s a stark contrast to his long history of songs that present love as a projection, a mirror or a deflection.
“Before the new songs, I had never used words like ‘never’ or ‘forever’ in a lyric,” he said. “Now, I’m willing to stand behind those words because I have a commitment to decency that I’ve never felt before. For five albums, I would create an image of someone that wasn’t true to who they were. I’d be in love with an idea. It’s not an uncommon problem.”
Mr. Goldsmith said his new view of love accounted, in part, for this pivot toward world issues. “When you see yourself as the center of things, it deprives you of a certain level of empathy,” he said. “With this record, I wanted to stop and think about where other people were coming from.”
The new song “Living in the Future,” a dense Crazy Horse-style rocker, deals with the ramifications of today’s fast-forward existence, while “Stay Down,” a diaphanous, R&B-tinged ballad, captures the desire for apathy that experience can stoke. The ruminative “Crack the Case” tries to broker a deal between various warring parties in a culture of divisiveness. Mr. Goldsmith personalized the last number by anchoring it to an anecdote about a woman who forgives her cheating husband — not for his betrayal, but for the early emotional damage that led him to commit it.
“Forgiveness isn’t talked about, at least not as much as I want to talk about it,” Mr. Goldsmith said. “When people do, or say, things we don’t believe in, forgiveness can feel disgusting. But when you try to think of someone who isn’t worthy of it, it’s hard to find an example.”
Mr. Goldsmith acknowledges that this key song on the album can be boiled down to the cliché, “Can’t we all just get along?,” which is “embarrassing,” he said. “But I also believe it’s 100 percent true. Like it or not, I’ve always been an earnest person.”
Recently, he bolstered his commitment to sincerity by attending a performance of Bruce Springsteen’s heart-on-his-sleeve Broadway show, which he called “profound.” “I’m watching huge dudes in the audience crying their eyes out because only Bruce, the man of all men, can talk to them about these things,” he said. In full live performances, Dawes emulates Mr. Springsteen’s herculean shows by playing for nearly three hours, the better to showcase the band’s prowess. According to Mr. Browne, Mr. Springsteen recently talked to him about Dawes. “He’s tracking their growth,” he said. “He saw that they’ve grown beyond their initial strength to something new.”
Mr. Goldsmith isn’t only flattered by the attention; he takes it as solace in an era that greatly disfavors earnest young rock bands. “I’m realistic about what the world likes now and what it doesn’t,” he said, before he got up to leave the museum. “It can seem like rock ’n’ roll is existing in the wrong time. But in a weird way, that’s edifying. It reminds us that we’re doing this on our own terms. My frustrations can only last so long before I feel insanely grateful.”
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