The first time I heard Dashboard Confessional, I had just turned thirteen. I was in seventh grade – that wonderful time of life where everything is awful for no explicable reason. “Stolen” played at the end of Made of Honor (which of course I saw in theaters like any true Patrick Dempsey fan) and something changed.
Nothing can make middle school great, but Dashboard Confessional made it bearable. Something about the music (which largely revolved around breakups and makeups) rang true for a thirteen-year-old with zero relationship experience. The raging emotionality was as relatable as it got. After all, Dashboard Confessional weren’t the leaders of the emo community for nothing.
Within the eight years that took place between the release Alter the Ending and Crooked Shadows, life reshaped itself on a personal and national level. For me personally, I transformed from an awkward, brace-faced high school sophomore to a brace-less almost-twenty-three-year-old college grad trying to figure shit out. And on a national level? Well, we went from the usual political squabbles to being possibly on the brink of nuclear warfare with a wannabe dictator lusting after military parades. So you could say things changed.
Yet through these highs and deep, deep lows, Dashboard’s Crooked Shadows somehow finds us just as we are. Chris Carrabba has pointedly traded in the emo acoustics that once defined Dashboard in favor of contemporary pop. But in no way, shape or form is this a “sell-out” record.
The triumphant opening track “We Fight” rings as a tribute to the emo community; to the kids who found solace in the track lines of The Swiss Army Romance and Dusk and Summer. And in this political atmosphere, the emo kids singing along to “Vindicated” are the same who are fighting for what they believe in and for each other: “And there’s still a kid somewhere that needs to hear this / That somebody cares, that somebody knows / Who’s tired of bleeding and battered and being torn up / Just pick yourself up, it’s time to go”.
This camaraderie shines through even on a track as seemingly personal and intimate as “Heart Beat Here”. Despite the ode to his marriage (“I wear my ring to know what’s at stake”), the message applies just as well to his now-grown fans as to his wife: “We found our way past our youthful fears / And fought our way through the pain and tears / And we drove our stakes in the place most dear / And let our hearts beat”. Even more touching is the crowd vocals echoing the core of the song, “Let your heart beat here”.
Chrissy Costanza of Against the Current lends her vocals to the closing track “Just What to Say”. The track is one of the most delicate yet one of the most powerful on the album. The haunting combination of Carrabba and Costanza’s vocals ends the album in an emotional climax, and a song that is essentially about writer’s block becomes so much more.
The emo ballads may have been best left in our formative years, but after eight years, Dashboard is back, and we’re right there with them.
Taking Back Sunday
Jimmy Eat World