A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Permanent Records is a year-long project. Each Friday (or thereabouts), I will post a new entry about one specific album, chosen due to its significance to myself as a fan. Though the list is numbered, a particular record's placement should not be considered a ranking. There will be 52 albums in all.

This endeavor is based on a concept started by Chris Tamarri at Crisis/Boring Change. It has since been expanded as a concept, as Neal Shaffer takes on a study of album covers over at Leftwich.

Personnel: Christopher Ender Carrabba, vocals & guitar; Dan Horner, guitar
Producer: James Paul Wisner / Label: Vagrant

It's easy to be dismissive of Dashboard Confessional. Then again, it's easy to be dismissive of anything. To take a dismissive stance is to distance yourself from something, and it's much harder to stand up close and be engaged. Coming from someone who has waved his hand contemptuously more times then you've likely scratched your own ass, banishing something from my sight that I don't deign to give anything more, you can trust me--this is one lesson I've learned.

Dashboard have become the whipping boy for this "emo" thing that was all the journalistic rage a couple of years ago. It's all bullshit now, though, as these days all you need do is shed one crocodile tear, and self-important connoisseurs will dismiss you with the emo tag. It doesn't even have to be a real tear anymore, and it doesn't even have to be music. I think there is even an emo video game.

Even when it meant something, it's hard to say whether it really did. Was it genuine? Was it a marketing ploy? Was it just a name the mean kids gave to the other kids to be assholes, pretending that they themselves had no albums by Joy Division, the Cure, et. al? When it meant something, it was about young music fans who weren't afraid to feel, who wanted a cathartic experience when they put on a record. Sure, that stance could be just as much about hiding from real feelings as refusing to be emo(tional), but I'd posit that it's a much more difficult fake to take.

Christopher Carrabba, the man who really is Dashboard Confessional, became the poster boy for this movement. Though he plays with a full band now (and emo purists shout "Judas!" the way smelly hippies shouted at Dylan) (yes, I was just dismissive of folk fans and hippies), Carrabba originally came on like a punk rock folk singer. He played an acoustic guitar and he sang lines that were too fat for any one mouth, both literate and heartfelt, his cross laid bare on his tattooed sleeves. If he became the eye of the shitstorm that swirled around emo as bloggers flung themselves at the wall of hipster credibility in hopes of getting a sweet gig writing for Pitchfork, it was because Carrabba refused to separate himself from his fans. Like Morrissey before him, he combed his hair incredibly high and let his followers walk through the forest of his bangs as he told them, "I am one of you." His live shows are famous for being sing-a-longs, desperate and lonely kids coming together around a modern campfire where they know every words and no one shuns them for being off-key. Granted, I'd never go to his shows because I pay to hear the band, not the audience, but you still have to respect it. It's better than the old Moz days of cracked actors hurling themselves at the master and pretending they weren't imbeciles; at least here we have respect for the music.

Which is a long intro to the So Impossible EP. In this tiny burst--four songs barely cresting fourteen minutes--Carrabba has not only distilled the Dashboard Confessional experience into a perfect capsule, but he has also captured the experience of teenage romance with an unmatched honesty and eye for detail. Essentially a concept album, it's the chronicle of one date, from crush to proposition to nervous preparation and ultimately, the fireworks of first love.

"For You To Notice..." is the realization of one's own desire. The song begins with some looped guitar, a little feedback in reverse, as the moment comes into being, the idea takes hold. It's a wonderful aural trick, a ten second flash of sound before the delicate strumming that will mark the rest of So Impossible. It's the instant where you see her across the room and her face comes into focus, and you just know. "I'm starting to fashion an idea in my head...."

The song is the contemplation of making your feelings known, of trying to muster the courage to let the other person know you have love to give. It is full of doubt, wondering if you can make the words come out the way you intend, and also the bravado of self-belief that only a good crush can inspire: "And you'd want to call me/ And I would be there every time you need me/ I'd be there every time." It's brave, and yet it has cowardice, as we are still at the moment where we can only stare and hope. Even so, since we go out on the same line as we came in--"I'm starting to fashion an idea in my head"--and since the title itself has an ellipsis, we know this is just the start. It can happen.

"So Impossible" sweetly brings it together. It's the girl that proposes the party, so somehow the dream happened, she noticed you the way you noticed her. How perfect is that? There is still some anxiety, some skirting around the issue. She suggests each bringing a friend, you pretend it's no big deal even as the possibilities of the impossible run through your head. The mind swims with all the things that this opportunity can bring, the aspects of the other person you might learn--and the most impossible of all, maybe you'll both continue to like each other as much after as you do right now.

Once more, the tune rings out on an unfinished thought. If you don't put a period on any of this, it won't stop. "So, yes, I'll see you there..." Once that agreement is in, all you have to do is wait.

Which is "Remember to Breathe."

"Remember to Breathe" is a superb song. It's the rare expression of male fear in this whole dating game. You know in the movies how you always see the girl getting ready before a date, and the boy shows up all set to go? This is the flipside. This is the boy looking in the mirror, picking his clothes. "I try on my blue shirt/ She told me she liked it once." That line is like that adolescent cliché of "he's singing about me," because I have a blue shirt that a girl once told me she liked, and I have to weigh when I wear it, because I don't want to do it too much, I have to keep a catalogue of it in my mind because I don't want to be obvious about it and I don't want to cause the shirt to overstay its welcome. Present tense, past tense, don't worry about it, I'm playing off "Remember to Breathe." Carrabba pulls a neat trick here, shuffling between the boy's thoughts ("So sneakers or flip flops? I'm starting to panic!") (Oh, Chris! You shouldn't even own flip flops! Throw them away!) and the girl's ("She wonders what I'll wear/ She knows just what she'll wear/ She always wears blue"). Or is it him imagining the process she must also go through? The blue is a nice bit of symmetry.

The final minute and a half of the song, you calm yourself down, you psych yourself up. "Remember to breathe, and everything will be okay," with repeats of "okay" and "all right" like a mantra, like you're keeping yourself focused as you walk up to that door. In the lyric sheet, the "all right" comes with a question mark, like a final check in with yourself, and in the song you get the unprinted answer. The music is gone, just a spoken reply of "Okay."

That answer is given its full due in the final song on So Impossible. The first lines of "Hands Down" are "Breathe in for luck/ Breathe in so deep/ This air is blessed, you share with me." You've remembered to breathe and it's paid off. The entire EP is acoustic, just Carrabba's guitar backed by Dan Horner's guitar, and it's been soft up until now, but "Hands Down" picks up the pace, the nervousness gathering steam to become action, giving away to a sweeping melody as the connection takes shape. In the narrative, you lead your love away from that party, running off to be alone together. As one is wont to do in this blush of passion, every detail is a catalogued, the physical, mental, and emotional. You've broken away from the pack, from the staring eyes, and it's just the two of you and no one else in the whole wide world.

The chorus of "Hands Down" is the real winner. To hearken back to Morrissey, the sentiment is reminiscent of the Smiths classic "There Is a Light that Never Goes Out." Yet, instead of standing passively back, here we lean in, cross the seat of the car to give the kiss we never imagined we would. It inspires an overly dramatic expression, but these feelings are overly dramatic. Why else would we bother if they weren't? "My hopes are so high that your kiss might kill me/ So won't you kill me?/ So I die happy."

Yes, it's a wonderful twist of fate in that for once, puppy love works. Teenage romance no longer unrequited. Each song on So Impossible ends with a promise, ends with the belief that it will not end, you can have what you want, and it's the same as "Hands Down." You've wrapped your arms around the girl of your dreams, everything's in place, and it's only the first night, there is so much more to come. "And you stood at the door, with your hands on my waist, and you kissed me like you meant it/ And I knew...that you meant it." Carrabba sings with unbridled joy, letting his voice rise in volume and crack from the effort. This song is about elation, not holding back. Dashboard Confessional means it, too.

And again, that's hard. Not holding back, standing in front of your feelings rather than hiding behind a pose, and somehow making it come off well, that's a tough job. "Hands Down" and the rest of So Impossible could have been bad high school poetry put to music, overwrought and over rhymed, but instead Christopher Carrabba has taken a simple and direct approach, speaking plainly, his guitar picking unadorned. It's a dangerous gambit. It's going to get you kicked in all the too-cool-for-the-actual alternative weeklies across America. In "Hands Down," part of the thrill of getting away from the crowd is that without them looking on, the romance can be private, free of the stupid reactions of those who can't make real connections on their own, so it takes guts to have fashioned the experience into this gem of a record to share with everyone else and endure the taunts and the labeling and dismissive sniffs of lonely souls afraid to give it what you've given it.

The thing is, if you don't hike up your pants and take the chance, that girl will never be yours, and by the same token, if bands can't screw up a little courage to actually mean what they say, they'll never have a CD as perfect as So Impossible. Dashboard Confessional tried it once and they got the girl, and good for them for trying again and making a record that will soundtrack lonely bedrooms everywhere. As the chorus goes on their most recent single, don't wait to lay your armour down.

(The first 26)

Reminder: As always, this post is full of links to Amazon. Click on any one of them when shopping, and Amazon will shave a few pennies off their take to give to me. So, if my reviews make you all hot and bothered and you just have to own one of the things I'm talking about, use my link and contribute to buying me more stuff to review. (Those reading a Live Journal feed will likely have to click to the actual blog page first before heading over to Amazon, though.) Either way, thanks for reading.

Current Soundtrack: Dashboard Confessional, So Impossible, Dusk & Summer

Current Mood: ridiculous

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[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2006 Jamie S. Rich

1 comment:

Michael Lechmann said...

I like the first track on this EP.

But then the rest of it - he does that dashboard confessional thing with his voice - the thing that shuts me out - the thing that says 'i'm faking.' it's like the voice from matchbox 20 speaking to me as though he is a rock god who wants nothing to do with me. i will comply and buy other records.