After the release of Dusk and Summer 12 years ago, Dashboard Confessional had an identity crisis. They couldn’t seem to decide whether to commit to pop rock or strip back entirely to the acoustic sound that made Chris Carrabba famous. Alter the Ending attempted to quell this by releasing a version of each. In the nine years since that last album, Dashboard’s audience has grown up, and so has he.
Crooked Shadows is the first Dashboard album since A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar that finds a solid footing between songwriting styles. Aggressively romantic, Carrabba found a way to embellish his writing to flow organically between rock, Lorde-esque pop and acoustic ballads. Crooked Shadows organically forges new ground as much as it sounds like a ‘best of’ collection.
It would be easy for the variety of style on Crooked Shadows to feel messy, but the album is extremely cohesive. An anthemic rock song like “We Fight” can sit beside the finger snaps and digital drums of “Belong” without sounding out of place. It is refreshing to hear each song try something new without retreading the footsteps of another song, or even past albums. That’s not to say that Crooked Shadows doesn’t sound like a Dashboard Confessional album. You can pick up the essence of every era of Dashboard’s history throughout the album if you’re listening.
The guitars of “We Fight” could be pulled from Dusk & Summer. Ending song, “Just What To Say” seems like it was left off of The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most. However, songs like “Belong” sound remarkably different from Dashboard’s past. Distinctly modern pop, it is driven by electronic drums, finger snaps, and Carrabba’s cracked vocals. It doesn’t sound out of place on the album, but it is a marked difference in songwriting.
This level of pop infusion follows through to “Crooked Shadows”. More traditional in nature, the pop elements mix with guitars to create a sound that is uniquely what a Dashboard Confessional song in 2018 should sound like. It is the line between today’s radio pop and Carrabba’s MTV rock anthems.
Carrabba’s voice has always been one of his most powerful instruments, and is in full force yet again. Older and matured, he returns with the slight gravel of age, giving his deeper songs an impact that an 18 year old could never muster (“We Fight”). Alternatively, his crisp high notes are just as powerful as ever (“About Us”), and the signature emo crooning seems ageless (“Just What To Say”).
Crooked Shadows is a record brimming with love songs and the will to forge ahead. “We Fight” is a song of encouragement for anyone scared to dive forward into their dreams. “Heart Beat Here” is Carrabba’s most romantic song since “Hands Down”. Backed by only an acoustic guitar, he sings to his wife, “I wear my ring to know what’s at stake / And when the days work at their own pace, you remain my time and place”.
“Open My Eyes” finds the doubt creeping in. However, the song still finds a way to push back and look for hope, even as Chris sings, “I would stare at myself in the mirror if I thought I had any answers / Hell, finding my way just by failure / Oh, so far, we can see clear”.
Crooked Shadows is a brilliant return to form for Dashboard Confessional after taking nearly a decade between albums. At only nine songs long, it takes its time with a confidence that the last two albums lacked. Whichever era of Dashboard you prefer, there is a song for you, and a few that will feel entirely new. It’s hard to say whether Crooked Shadows will be anyone’s favorite album from the band, but it is sure to be remembered for as one of their most unique.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and listened to Crooked Shadows while wading through a foot of snow to the train. Yaaaaaay, February!