Dusk and Summer
henever I listen to Dashboard Confessional, I’m always amazed by Chris Carrabba’s single-minded dedication to chronicling young love and its inevitable ruin. I mean, either his entire oeuvre is based on one epic, failed romance, or he simply throws his heart at the feet of the worst women available over and over, suffering for his art and training to defend his emo title. Either way, I admire his determination. Carrabba (or perhaps producer Don Gilmore) attempts to expand his topic and sound palette on Dusk and Summer, but the overall lack of any real risk results in standard guitar anthem boilerplate. Dashboard Confessional thrives on raw feeling, and succeeds when the songs musically reflect that, usually by banging on an acoustic guitar and screaming. With tracks like “Reason to Believe,” “Rooftops and Invitations,” and “The Secret’s in the Telling” softening those vocal edges with low harmony and hiding or eliminating the acoustic with waves of power-pop guitar distortion, we’re left with no satisfying crunch.
The single, “Don’t Wait,” adheres to this limp formula, but Carrabba forces his way through the studio excess by tossing his voice up, up, and over it all, managing to connect briefly with the desperate “Don’t wait, Don’t wait / The road is now a sudden sea / And suddenly, you’re deep enough to lay your armor down.” Unfortunately, the lack of equally committed vocal moments on the previously mentioned songs dooms them to mediocrity. In fact, it’s difficult to even describe the musical details from song to song; there’s just not enough substantial difference. This is an ongoing theme throughout Dusk and Summer, and I would venture to say throughout Dashboard Confessional’s music in general: the most memorable and compelling moments always come from the vocals. And when it works, it really works. Carrabba connects so well with his throngs of admiring fans because of the intimate nature of his “expressive conversations,” not through impressive guitar work or compositional decisions.
Dusk and Summer does have a few of these moments, mostly in the tender, quiet tracks that allow Carrabba to simply express himself without obsessing over fleshing out and polishing the sound. Chief among these is the title track, featuring unhurried acoustic guitar and high, clear vocal pearls during the chorus. Unlike the pomp and circumstance of the aforementioned tracks, “Dusk and Summer” showcases Dashboard’s real sonic shift. The ingredients remain the same, but the anger and angst of romantic failure is gone, replaced by regret and bittersweet nostalgia. With lines like “Some things tie your life together / In slender threads of things to treasure / Days like that should last and last and last,” Dashboard diehards will still get their emo fix, but in a slightly more mature form.
“Don’t Wait,” the aforementioned single, with its out-of-the-box vocal harmonies and bleached distortion washes, clearly shows that the decision-makers are selling the manicured, all-frosting-no-cake version of Dashboard Confessional as their “new sound.” The true single, the track that embodies Dashboard’s new path (while remaining catchy) is “So Long, So Long.” With slow, tender breaths of vocals, tenuous violin strands, and circular piano lines, the song embodies the new, more reflective side of Carrabba. The surprising and beautiful minor chord drops in the chorus keep the energy level low, but add a layer of emotional ambiguity not present in earlier albums. Adam Duritz of Counting Crows guests on the track, but “So Long, So Long” doesn’t need the star power to succeed.
The attempt to carve out a more expanded Dashboard sound finally achieves some success in the last track, “Heaven Here.” Carrabba makes a conscious effort to shake things up with organ, tinkling chime effects, and synth-violins, straining, screaming “Heaven is here / Heaven is here.” Carrabba picks his spots to release his fury on Dusk and Summer rather than liberally flinging it around, so its inclusion on the last track of an album raises questions. Are the experiences he used to drive his music all in the past? Is the fire too far gone? The best songs, the ones that ring true on Dusk and Summer are bittersweet, tender, and retrospective. Will Dashboard Confessional try to hide this fact with loud and empty tracks like “Reason to Believe” and “Rooftops and Invitations,” or will they embrace their new muse and make things a little more complicated (and meaningful) for their fans? Here’s hoping that Carrabba has left most of his pain behind and can start singing in the past tense instead of the present.
Reviewed by: Jeff Shreve
Reviewed on: 2006-07-05