Dashboard Confessional
The Shade of Poison Trees
(Vagrant; 2007)

Rating: 50%
Combined Rating: N/A
  1. Where There’s Gold...
2. Thick as Thieves
3. Keep Watch for the Mines
4. These Bones
5. Fever Dreams
6. The Shade of Poison
7. The Rush
8. Little Bombs
9. I Light My Own Fires Now
10. Matters of Blood and Connection
11. Clean Breaks
12. The Widows Peak
I'm just going to admit, perhaps unprofessionally, that I can't quite get the syrupy terribleness of this album's title track to desist from ringing in my ears like the internal aftermath of an explosion. I've listened to every Dashboard album on eggshells, terrified that somewhere in its tear-stained midst I would find this exact song lurking, and it would sully my appreciation of all that came before and decimate my enjoyment of all that came thereafter. Boom.

And it's a shame. It's a damn shame, it really is. I wouldn't have reviewed The Shade of Poison Trees (CMG has never covered Dashboard before) if I didn't have somewhat of an investment in Chris Carrabba's past work, and a genuine interest in his latest effort. (I'm guessing 30% of you secretly do, too.) Sure, I've outgrown Dashboard Confessional, but then again he's supposed to have done some growing too. Chris is a talented, if maudlin, lyricist, and although the bare sing-along his first couple records wore thin, the melodies were consistently clean and catchy. He even showed some commercial savvy by gussying up the sound a little on A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar (2003).

He seems to have carried some momentum into this record as well. The first five tracks are diverse and spirited, with only "Thick as Thieves" sounding exactly like a Dashboard song, and a pretty good one at that. His thematic posture has matured as well. There are more characters on this album than "unrequited martyr" and "overly jubilant young lover." The lyrics of "These Bones," though still couched in a romantic come-on, smack of cynicism and resignation.

Certain lines even make it seem as though he's looking back at the caricaturized intensity of his trademark personas and rolling his eyes with the rest of us. On "Thick as Thieves" he sings, "Would it kill you to breath easily?" and, "Listen to yourself / There is a hemorrhage in your mouth / It won't stop bleeding." He's a counselor to his former self, suggesting a little more poise, a little more reserve. Baring your heart is fine, but you don't have to throw it at people. "Fever Dreams," too, is questionable, but it's enough of a departure, what with Carrabba's switched-up vocals, its rigid structure, and it's, you know, actual beat, that it's actually sort of refreshing while still not being all that good.

Then there's the explosion and everything afterward is irreparably altered through some kind of unholy transubstantiation. I honestly think that if "The Shade of Poison Trees" didn't exist the second half of this track list would sound differently. Not just more favorably sequenced, but actually inherently different and better. But as it stands here's the rundown:

- "Rush" is a cheeseball aftershock of the explosion where Carrabba goes back to singing about the life affirming qualities of a kiss.

- "Little Bombs" could be found batting eighth on any Dashboard record.

- "I Light My Own Fires Now" tries for the same thing that "Keep Watch for the Mines" achieves with less success.

- "Matters of Blood and Connection" finds Carrabba singing inexplicably as a class warrior. He jeers oddly at a poseur, "Why do you speak with that accent now / Everyone knows you're not from the streets." From the streets, Chris?

And I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. The more rational explanation is that the latest Dashboard Confessional album is extremely front-loaded, it should have been an EP, etc. However, out of personal animus toward a song that single-handedly ruined a guilty pleasure of mine, I will be sticking with the shit bomb theory.

Eric Sams
October 8, 2007

Future of the Left

The Modern Lovers

Danny is Dead!


Arve Henriksen

Ai Aso
Chamomile Pool

Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos

Ricardo Villalobos
Fabric 36

Autumn of the Seraphs

In Our Bedroom After the War

Animal Collective
Strawberry Jam

Les Savy Fav
Let's Stay Friends

Jens Lekman
Night Falls Over Kortedala

Morgan Packard

Airships Fill the Sky/

Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew
Spirit If...

Dirty Projectors
Rise Above

Rogue Wave
Asleep at Heaven's Gate

Love Is Simple

Combined Rating: Average Rating from CMG Staff.

0-19%: Painful
20-29%: Terrible
30-39%: Poor
40-49%: Nearing average

50-54%: Average
55-59%: Slightly above average
60-64%: Good; serious flaws

65-69%: Good; detracting problems
70-74%: Impressive; well above average
75-79%: Solid; few major reservations

80-84%: Great; repeated listens suggested
85- 89%: Exceptional; repeated listens   demanded
90-95%: Best of year
96-100%: Best of genre
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