Podcast: The Return of Dashboard Confessional

Nearly a decade after Dashboard Confessional took a break, Chris Carrabba has returned with a new album, Crooked Shadows. Kiel Hauck and Kyle Schultz discuss the legacy of Dashboard Confessional, why the music still matters, and how the music of Dashboard has evolved through the years. They also take a look at Dashboard’s new release and debate on what lies ahead for the band. Listen in!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

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Review: Dashboard Confessional – Crooked Shadows

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.

You can buy Crooked Shadows on iTunes.

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.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle 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!

Reflecting On: Dashboard Confessional – Dusk and Summer

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Dusk and Summer has always felt like an out of place title in the midst of Dashboard Confessional’s discography. Replacing the melancholy of earlier records and the spectacle of “Dashboard goes electric”, Dusk and Summer is a glamorized summer album, specifically tailored to be listened to as a soundtrack on the beach. The guitars are softer, laying the groundwork for songs soaking themselves in love and sunshine. Dusk and Summer is the Dashboard record that I cherry pick the most when listening to these days, but remains the album that feels the most like the summer of 2006 to me 10 years later.

Having followed Dashboard Confessional for years before the release of this album, the only release between this album and 2003’s seminal A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar was the song “Vindicated” from the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack, a rock song that seemed to be following the band’s transition from from acoustic emo to sovereign rock band. It retained the sound of slower guitars that focused the crunch of punk and the melody of pop punk while Chris Carrabba pushed his vocals to soaring heights.

“Don’t Wait”, the first single off of Dusk and Summer was a softer ballad. The crisp snap of acoustic guitar, the aura of electric guitar and drums playing for rhythm rather than leading the song let me down on some level. It wasn’t the sound of a band testing their ability to refine their newly discovered rock sound, it was a band writing easier songs. It was a band delving into being in love instead of the prose that seemed to define their earlier career.

Songs like “Reason to Believe” or “Rooftops and Invitations” seemed more in line with what I had expected, but even then I saw them more as alt-rock radio songs than anything else.

That said, I listened to Dusk and Summer the entire season while on vacation between college semesters. I found love for the first time and never gave credit to this album for being my soundtrack for late night drives and hot summer days scouring creek beds. It spun on repeat, interrupting AFI’s “Miss Murder” and my long-awaited triple-disc album from The Early November.

Where Dusk and Summer shines is the innocence of its message. Chris Carrabba romanticized the feeling and memories of first love. It’s almost a concept album in execution, as it perfectly encapsulates the lust and obsession of feeling like the most special thing in the world to someone else and seeing them as the same. It also executes the realization that though a relationship may end, it doesn’t make those memories or emotions any less real.

During the title track, as he sings, “And she pulled you in / And she bit your lip and she made you hers / She looked deep into you as you lay together / Quiet in the grasp of dusk and summer / But you’ve already lost”, I can see myself, eyes-glazed, wondering how an emotion could be so powerful.

“Stolen” sees Chris sing, “I watch you spin in your highest heels / You are the best one of the best ones / And we all look like we feel / You have stolen my heart”. The grace of the lyrics, the sweet croons of violin and the gentle build-up of guitar swell the song to become one of the great love songs of the era.

One of the main themes of Dusk and Summer is letting down your guard for the experiences of love. “Don’t Wait”, the opening track, repeatedly begs amidst its chorus for the listener “to lay your armor down”. Conversely, possibly one of the most underappreciated songs on the album, “Slow Decay”, shows the consequences of doing so that doesn’t have a happy ending. What could be a conversation between a father and a son suffering from PTSD, coming home from the battlefield is also a lesson from father to son about coping with a fresh, failed relationship and the terrifying loneliness that accompanies it as you try to find normalcy again. For someone who hasn’t experienced it before, it can be devastating.

“You look so strong in that picture on the mantle you sent your mom when you were gone / But you look scared now, hollow eyed / When are you coming, when are you coming back to where you belong? / I swear that it’s safe here, there’s nothing to fear at all / Come on back to where you belong / The pressure releases if you just let down your guard”.

Dusk and Summer might emote the feelings of love and let-down that accompany relationships far better than the most heartfelt emo that has been praised for the that exact reason. Though I still have a tough time claiming it amongs my favorite Dashboard Confessional albums, the record means more to me every time I listen to it. While there are a dozen other albums that I would rate more important to me that came out in 2006, or even just during the summer of that year, Dusk and Summer might be the most memorable.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle 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 literally just realized how lovely this album is while listening to it tonight. What an ass. If you see him, pelt him with shards of glass for waiting 10 years to appreciate Dusk and Summer.

Taste of Chaos 2016: A Reason to Look Forward

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If you’ve followed any of the chatter surrounding this year’s resurrected Taste of Chaos tour, you’ve undoubtedly had your fill of wistful musings of days past. Certainly, it’s easy to get sentimental when glancing at the lineup – a who’s who of scene goliaths that paved the way for the approaching hurricane of nu-emo culture at the turn of the millennium. But to boil this summer trek down to nothing more than a mere nostalgia trip would be to miss the point entirely.

Chris Carrabba has dusted off Dashboard Confessional in recent months, releasing a new song this spring with plans for further recording. Taking Back Sunday is fresh off the heels of 2014’s refreshing Happiness Is and has a new album in the works. Saosin has reunited with original lead vocalist Anthony Green and released a new album, Along the Shadow, to critical acclaim last month. The Early November dropped one of 2015’s best rock records in Imbue just last spring.

All this to say that while it’s fun to reflect on the past, every band on this year’s Taste of Chaos tour is in full swing and primed for another step forward. Even if there’s nothing left to prove, there’s still plenty left to say.

For Early November vocalist Ace Enders, a man who has written and released a mountain of songs through his various creative channels, it’s almost hard to believe that he’s still getting better. Imbue is arguably the band’s best work to date, and on night three of Taste of Chaos in Indianapolis, Enders sounds just as impassioned singing “Narrow Mouth” as he does “Baby Blue”. Playing from a catalogue that stretches across 12 years, The Early November sound tighter than ever.

Saosin

Saosin

Speaking of spans of time, it’s still hard to believe your eyes when Anthony Green takes the stage with Saosin, a band he departed in 2004. Still, after the release of the ambitious Along the Shadow, it’s clear that this reunion means business. With a collection of 13 new songs to draw from, Saosin is able to stretch beyond Translating the Name with their setlist, offering fans the chance to hear the band shred across their new tracks.

While it’s still just as fun to hear “Seven Years” as it was all those years ago, it’s more interesting to hear the band tackle their new creations. In this setting, “Racing Toward a Red Light” sounds like the heaviest song Saosin has ever written. Likewise, “Illusion & Control” allows guitarist Beau Burchell and drummer Alex Rodriguez to let loose on stage during the song’s climactic close. With an expanding setlist, the only downside is not being rewarded with “Voices” or another track from the band’s equally celebrated Cove Reber era.

Taking Back Sunday

Taking Back Sunday

By the time Taking Back Sunday takes the stage, the lawn at White River State Park has filled out and the sun is beginning to set along the horizon. Rays of light cut through the stage backdrop, highlighting a confident Adam Lazzara as he struts across the stage. It’s a testament to Lazzara’s continued commitment to his craft that the mystifying mic swings are now merely a compliment to his overall performance. On this night, he rips through the set, sounding as solid as ever.

It’s a mix of the old and the new as the band opens with “Cute Without the ‘e’” before shifting to “Liar” and “Flicker, Fade”. With six albums under their belt and a laundry list of hits, it gets harder to know which tracks are the real mainstays. During their set, Taking Back Sunday try out a few new tricks fresh from the studio. “Holy Water” sounds like a suitable evolution from Happiness Is, while Tidal Wave sounds like a Ramones cover.

As intriguing as it is to get a glimpse of the future, it’s still hard to deny the indulgence of “A Decade Under the Influence” and “MakeDamnSure”. With any luck, band’s forthcoming record will only add to the growing list of Taking Back Sunday signature tracks, just as “Better Homes and Gardens” joined the list two years ago.

Dashboard Confessional

Dashboard Confessional

After three provisions of various kinds of chaos, it’s almost appropriate for Dashboard Confessional to bring things to a close. Carrabba has long been one of the most joyful performers in the scene, providing an ironic catharsis in the midst of so many painful songs. Yet to hear the crowd sing along heartily to “Stolen” and “Don’t Wait”, it’s clear that his songs of delight resound just as loudly with fans.

Carrabba has shape-shifted through the years from broken-hearted loner to confident rock icon to pensive folk artist without ever seeming unsure in his step. He’s a crafty songwriter with a knack for connecting with his aging audience, effortlessly meeting them where they are. On stage, he’s just as much a conductor as he is a performer, leading the choir through a history of heartbreak and redemption.

It’s only here that the nostalgia seems prevalent, perhaps because of the subject matter, but also because Carrabba seems to understand his role in 2016. He no doubt wants to revisit Dashboard with the intent of creating new material, but he also seems satisfied to rekindle an old flame with his fans. As is his custom, he regularly steps away from the mic for long periods, letting the crowd carry the band through songs like “The Best Deceptions”, “Saints and Sailors” and even the chorus of Coldplay’s “Fix You”. We’re all Dashboard Confessional, according to Chris.

While it’s not wrong to remember the past, it’s unnecessary to dwell there. On this year’s Taste of Chaos, we reflect on the moments that made us fall in love with music, but we also celebrate the fact that the same voices that sang our soundtracks are still singing new songs. And so are we.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Twin Forks – Twin Forks

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With the slew of folk rock acts that have seemingly burst from the woodwork directly into the mainstream in recent years, it’s fair to assume that there would be certain amount of bands pandering to the newfound demographic. How then, would one go about determining what’s genuine? Perhaps it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

An established songwriter jumping on the folk rock bandwagon may appear odd to some, but for many of us that have grown up with Chris Carrabba, Twin Forks makes sense.

The Americana/folk rock band was formed in 2011 by Carrabba, who has become a living emo legend due to his time in Further Seems Forever and Dashboard Confessional. If the shift to Twin Forks seems stark and curious, one listen to the band’s debut self-titled LP should bring a bit of clarity.

Previously, Carrabba had made a career out of heart-on-his-sleeve, emotion-filled cuts that dug deep at the sting of lost love. The early Dashboard albums felt so in the moment, mostly because so many of us were experiencing them in the midst of similar pain.

The appearance of Twin Forks is about much more than a fresh stylistic change, it’s about growing up. Now in his late 30s, Carrabba seems to be taking this opportunity to show his growth – not only as a musician, but as a person.

Twin Forks is about love, viewed through the eyes of a wiser, yet still learning adult. Opener “Can’t Be Broken” exhibits not only the fresh upbeat folk sound of the band, but brings Carrabba’s storytelling abilities to the forefront.

Throughout the course of the album, he’ll reflect on past love and the excitement of new love with a patient eye. There’s no rush and the album flows smoothly in both lyric and tone. The tracks themselves provide the appropriate soundtrack to each story, shifting from toe tapping twang to stripped down strumming with relative ease.

Truth be told, there’s some familiarity to be found here as well. Songs like “Cross My Mind” and “Danger” wouldn’t feel too out of place on Dashboard’s 2009 outing Alter the Ending. Meanwhile, “Plans” features one of the more emotional melodies that Carrabba has written in years and “Back to You” finds his recognizable strained vocals fitting right in to their new background.

Backup vocals, courtesy of Suzie Zeldin (The Narrative), are a welcome addition to the mix, providing a wonderful harmony on tracks like “Kiss Me Darling”. Likewise, her mandolin pushes several of the songs over the top by capturing jubilant and thoughtful moments.

If there’s any gripe to be found, it’s that Twin Forks sometimes seems to be constricted by its chosen genre. “Scraping Up the Pieces” feels a bit forced and formulaic while “Come On” uses its upbeat tempo to guise a rather boring track. However, where these tracks lack in depth they certainly make up for in charm.

At first glance, Twin Forks appears as an awkward flight from known territory for Carrabba, but it’s clear that he knows what he’s doing. Some detractors have pointed out a lack of his once-appealing painful songwriting in his more recent work. This is a good thing.

Those old Dashboard songs will always serve to remind us of our youth, but with age comes experience and perspective. Twin Forks offers these qualities in abundance and meshes them with a sound that feels mature and honest to the subjects at hand. In doing so, Carrabba has shown us that there’s more than one way to wear your heart on your sleeve.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.