Sunday, October 28, 2007

Review: The Shade of Poison Trees

I will be the first to admit that I like emo music. I absolutely detest the label of "emo", but a lot of the music I really identify with and enjoy falls under that increasingly maligned umbrella. It's much too liberally applied, seeing as how great albums by Jimmy Eat World and Gatsby's American Dream are getting included in the genre but don't fit the modern popular conception of the original sound.

Emo used to be a genuinely great genre of music, with bands like Weezer even fitting in with Pinkerton. An emotional song works for me, and an emotional album that fits together sonically is something that resonates very deeply with me as a listener. Unfortunately, the "emo" label tends to stick to an artist and never get off their back, and Dashboard Confessional is a prime example of that. Chris Carrabba left Further Seems Forever after their debut album in 2001 and broke into the hearts of women everywhere with his first albums as Dashboard Confessional. Over the course of his first four albums, he started to get more an more electric, leaving behind the "one man and a guitar" sound that was his catalog so far. After last year's Dusk and Summer failed to connect while being the biggest departure from Carrabba's sound, he saw fit to go back to basics on his new album, The Shade of Poison Trees.

My favorite album by Dashboard is still 2003's A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar because of its ease switching from acoustic to electric while still maintaining its high level of emotion throughout, but this album comes close to matching that. After last year's album, a lot of people have fallen off the Dashboard wagon, and I almost counted myself among those ranks. However, I decided to give the album a shot after hearing it would be a much less expansive record, and I think Carrabba is much better suited to making that kind of music. He messed around with arrangements on Dusk and Summer, seemingly forgetting that what he's best at is writing a heartfelt song with amazing acoustic chord progression, which TSoPT has in spades.

I'll start with what I think is the strongest song, which happens to be the closer "Widow's Peak." It happens to be one of the only tracks that lacks acoustic guitar as a central instrument, opting instead for piano, but the more intimate sound is so much better for Carrabba's writing style and his voice. He sings very high for a guy, and the fragility of his voice in that register works very well with light instumentation. I remember seeing videos of him performing solo with just his guitar, and he gives much stronger performances that way.

Songs that would've been fleshed out in too much production on a different album are much stronger when they are kept stripped down, like "Little Bombs", "Watch Out For Mines", and the opener "Where There's Gold...". Even songs that are fleshed out by the rest of the band like "Thick as Theives" sound more like AMAMABAS, and that is the highest of compliments. It's also a great help that he's finally tried his hand at making his lyrics a bit more mature. It was a little was listening to a guy so far removed from adulthood still singing like he's hurting from that girl in high school. The songs here still deal with the same subject matter and have a similar sound, but the lyrics have taken a huge step forward.

Will this album bring back the fans that left? I don't think so, most of them have been really turned off by the last album, but those that actually do stick around and buy this album will find that Carrabba has gotten himself back on track. Dashboard isn't for everyone, but I still like it a lot, and this album shows me that somewhere inside Carrabba is another great album just waiting to get out so long as he resists the urge to over-produce it.

Dashboard Confessional - Widow's Peak
Dashboard Confessional - Thick as Theives

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