Dashboard Confessional returns to form with his most acoustic, personal album in 20 years
When emo rose up from the underground and hit the mainstream in the early 2000s, Chris Carrabba and his Dashboard Confessional project were at the forefront of it. Chris was already established in the emo scene as the frontman of Further Seems Forever (and the Vacant Andys and The Agency), but with Dashboard, he strayed from emo's punk roots with a set of acoustic songs that were softer and more intimate than what his other bands and most of his peers were doing at the time. Dashboard left such an immediate and profound impact that "acoustic emo" quickly became its own subgenre, and it doesn't feel like an overstatement to say it might have never happened without his influence. His early acoustic records like The Swiss Army Romance, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, and the So Impossible EP and their breakout singles "Screaming Infidelities" and "Hands Down" defined an entire moment, serving as a launchpad for both Chris' career and emo overall, and that era of his career remains beloved and influential today. As Dashboard's fame grew, Chris expanded the project into a full band and deviated from the sound of those first two records, going in a variety of different pop and rock oriented directions over the years. He returned to a more heavily acoustic sound on 2007's underrated The Shade of Poison Trees, but quickly returned to a full-band rock sound on its 2009 followup, and Dashboard's most recent album -- 2018's Crooked Shadows, which was his first in nine years and released at the height of the emo revival that he helped inspire -- was the project's most stadium-sized pop rock record yet.
Dashboard put out plenty of cool stuff on those bigger sounding full-band records, but fans of his early days will be pleased to know that All The Truth That I Can Tell is the most heavily acoustic and personal Dashboard Confessional album in 20 years. It reunites Chris with producer James Paul Wisner, who helmed his first two albums, and the bulk of the album is fueled by Chris and his acoustic guitar. Only two songs have drums ("The Better of Me" and "Pain Free In Three Chords"). "At the height of my success, I think I felt that I was pushed off the course I’d charted for myself," Chris said in the press materials for the new album. "It took me a number of years to figure out how to find my way back, and to be able to do so with the deepest conviction." And it's not just that Chris is stripping things back musically again; as the album title suggests, these are the most intimate, honest songs he's written since the early 2000s too. "Honesty was at the heart of the writing process, at the heart of the recording process and at the heart of this collection of songs," he said. "I had the rare opportunity to be unflinchingly honest. But I think I would have thought in the early days that that would be commonplace. Now, I realize it’s some kind of cycle within your life and there’s great personal reward in accepting that."
All The Truth That I Can Tell is a clear return to form, but it's not a regression. Chris has grown a lot as a songwriter since those first two albums, and that's reflected in the maturity of this one. The album might make you nostalgic for 2002, but Chris couldn't have written these songs 20 years ago; these are the kinds of songs that come to you after many years and life experiences have given you the time to reflect. "I wish all that fault was yours, but it was all mine," Chris sings on opening track "Burning Heart," flipping the script of early 2000s emo toxicity. "And since we're being honest for the first time in a long time," he continues, "I see you everywhere I go, and everywhere I go I feel the same damn burning heart." On "The Better of Me," he gets even more reflective. "Nobody told me [...] that I'd dig through my past, that I'd keep looking back to find out who I wanted to be." Multiple times on the albums, he sings about the days of being too young to have the perspective he has now. The impassioned, no-filter songwriting style is nostalgia-inducing, but Chris isn't pretending to be the person he was back then. This album addresses his current deepest thoughts and anxieties, and that's why it resonates in 2022 as strongly as "Screaming Infidelities" did 20 years ago. This is not the kind of "back to basics" approach that artists take when they fear they've lost touch with what their fans want. The way Chris tells it, he wasn't writing this album to please old fans at all; he was writing it for himself. "To be frank, I was being selfish. I was absolutely not thinking about any other person that might hear this. I was only thinking about me." It's in those self-involved moments that the best art often comes, and All The Truth That I Can Tell truly is some of Chris Carrabba's best art.
All The Truth That I Can Tell is out now via Hidden Note Records/AWAL. Pick up a copy on dark blue and green vinyl and stream it and watch a couple videos below...