Artist Spotlight: Dashboard Confessional

So, Dashboard Confessional. Yes, yes, I know. Hear me out. Dashboard Confessional is arguably the primary inventor of emo music, or at least acoustic emo. Their early stripped-down arrangements and heartbreaking lyrics were an influence on countless artists, and if you give them a fair shake, they’re pretty enjoyable on their own merits.

Dashboard’s first and best album was called The Swiss Army Romance. This is where they pioneered the style for which they would be known, with acoustic harmonies, strained vocals, simple rhythms, low-fi production and Wilsonian lyrics about heartbreak and loneliness. (I don’t use the term “Wilsonian” lightly; Pet Sounds was clearly a massive influence on lead singer/songwriter Chris Carrabba’s creative vision.) Provided are two of the record’s best songs. When listening, pay special attention to the lyrics.


Their second album, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, continued their sound for the most part, but as the band made a name for itself, Carrabba began to embrace higher production values and slower tempos, leading to an overall slicker album. Whether this is an improvement or not is up to your discretion.


The third Dashboard Confessional album sent the band on the trajectory that would define the rest of their career—a slow movement into pop. A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar kept much of the authenticity that had set Dashboard apart at the beginning, but with more syncopation and melodic variety. The lyrics were a lot more uplifting, though a touch of either melancholy or anger remained on all the tracks (sans “Hey Girl”, which is atrocious). This album spawned “Hands Down”, which is arguably Dashboard’s best-known song.


Dashboard’s fourth release would be even more pop-oriented than their third. Dusk and Summer was full of slow, inspirational ballads (“Stolen” and “Don’t Wait” are two prominent ones), as well as some low-volume reflections such as “So Long, So Long” and “Slow Decay”. The primary difference between Duskand Mark is that on Dusk, Dashboard knew how to do pop. It’s a far more satisfying listen because they’ve settled on a style.


On their fifth album, The Shade of Poison Trees, Dashboard returned to lo-fi, with great results. The primarily narrative lyrics aren’t as real or as raw as those on The Swiss Army Romance, but they make up for it with cleverness and creativity. For this one, I’m going to mostly let the music speak for itself.

Finally (or perhaps not), Dashboard Confessional resumed their descent into pop, with utterly painful results that they called Alter the Ending. The included track is for research purposes only; I hold no delusion that you will enjoy it.

So there we are. Tell me what you liked, what I could have done better, your own experiences with the band, or anything else you feel like telling me.