7. Dashboard Confessional

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 7 is Dashboard Confessional.


Acoustic guitar + emotional lyrics + passionate vocalist = Dashboard Confessional. At its core, Dashboard Confessional boils down to that simple formula. Over time, the band expanded and the musical complexity increased. But the heart of Dashboard Confessional was, is, and always will be Chris Carrabba. In many ways Carrabba is Dashboard Confessional the way Sam Beam is Iron & Wine.

The way I first heard of Dashboard makes me feel incredibly old. I used to belong to something called the BMG music club. Every month they would mail me a catalog from which I could order CDs at a discounted rate. One month Dashboard Confessional’s The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most was the featured album of the month, and I decided to order it on a whim. It arrived at a time in my life when I was just beginning to care about romantic relationships, and the lyrics struck a chord. The album was short, consisting of 10 tracks and clocking in under 30 minutes. I put the CD on loop on my bedroom stereo. Each heart-wrenching lyric fed my teenage angst more and more, and my appetite was insatiable.

Carrabba’s lyrics came from an intersection of heartbreak and hopeless romantic. Perhaps no line hit me harder from my first listen through than the closing line of “This Ruined Puzzle”, in which Carrabba somberly asks the most pertinent question in the world for a lovesick teenager: “Does he ever get the girl?”

Thankfully in 2015, I can answer a definitive “Yes!” to what once felt like an eternally rhetorical question. And it’s in no small part thanks to Dashboard that I can answer affirmatively. The truth is the relationship I have with my wife Jessie was rooted in music. Our story dates back as far as 2003 when she began working with me at Giant Eagle. The first area of common ground that we struck was our interest in music, particularly Dashboard Confessional. After all, we were teens in the early 2000s. Dashboard lyrics obviously flavored our AOL Instant Messenger conversations and away messages during those days.

The opening track on this compilation, “So Impossible” from 2001’s So Impossible [EP] holds a special place in our relationship as well. Jessie used the song’s question-laden lyrics as email bait to learn a little more about me in our earliest days of courtship. Fast forward to Nov. 6, 2005 when Jessie and I were just a few months removed from our first breakup. We nonetheless traveled together to attend Dashboard live at SUNY Fredonia. When Carrabba sung, “As Lovers Go,” I joined in with a message that I believed wholeheartedly.

And I said “I’ve gotta be honest
I’ve been waiting for you all my life.”
For so long I thought I was asylum bound,
But just seeing you makes me think twice.
And being with you here makes me sane,
I fear I’ll go crazy if you leave my side.
You’ve got wits… you’ve got looks,
You’ve got passion but are you brave enough to leave with me tonight?

But you’ve got me…

I’ll be true, I’ll be useful…
I’ll be cavalier…I’ll be yours my dear.
And I’ll belong to you…
If you’ll just let me through.
This is easy as lovers go,
So don’t complicate it by hesitating.
And this is wonderful as loving goes,
This is tailor-made, whats the sense in waiting?

I don’t know if I should credit Carrabba’s lyrics or my valiant attempt to sing along, but whatever the magic bullet was, Jessie and I were dating again within a matter of days. We even saw another live Dashboard performance in Erie in April of ’06. Throughout our college years, Dashboard remained a musical fixture. Sometimes our buddy Rich would play guitar and we’d have late night Dashboard singalongs.

If singalongability was a word, Dashboard would score off the charts for its singalongability. Dashboard Confessional songs encourage—even demand—audience participation. Falling into that often mocked and parodied genre known as “emo”, Dashboard’s lyrics are expressive, emotional, and, predictably, often confessional with a heavy focus on romantic relationships. If you want a sense of how emotionally invested Dashboard Confessional’s fans were/are in the band’s lyrics, check out the MTV Unplugged performance.

Dashboard’s music itself is pretty straightforward, but the messages of the songs hit on universal themes and relatable experiences that made teens like me latch on. Nowadays when I hear any of the Dashboard songs listed below, I’m instantly transported back to a different place and time in my life. The memories are a powerful cocktail of heartbreak and happiness, new possibilities and missed opportunities.

As for the specific songs that made the cut for my ultimate Dashboard collection, it’s not surprising that the aforementioned The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most led the way with five tracks, including the title track and the angst-filled “Again I Go Unnoticed.”

Although that album was the first Dashboard album I heard, it wasn’t actually the band’s debut. That was 2000’s Swiss Army Romance, which landed three tracks on my compilation, including two of Dashboard’s most anthemic songs. “Age Six Racer” earns the title as the end-of-summer anthem for the following:

So long sweet summer
I stumbled upon you and gratefully basked in your rays
So long sweet slumber
I fell into you now you’re gracefully falling away
Hey thanks, thanks for that summer, it’s cold where you’re going
I hope that your heart is always warm
I gave you the best, I gave you the best that I had
You passed on the letters and passed on the best that I had
Meanwhile, “The Swiss Army Romance” takes home the prize for the coming-of-age anthem:
Sleep with all the sheets off,
bearing your mattress,
bearing your soul.
And you’re dying to look smooth with your tattoos,
but you’re searching just like everyone,
could be anyone.
And the friends that you have are the best
impressing most of us as permanent,
and I’d like to see you undone.
Youth’s the most unfaithful mistress.
Still we forge ahead to miss her.
Rushing our moment to shine.Making up a history,
It’s nothing from the life you lead,
but man will they buy all your lines.We’re not twenty-one,
but the sooner we are
the sooner the fun will begin,
so get out your fake eyelashes
and fake IDs,
and real disasters ensue.
It’s cool to take these chances.
It’s cool to fake romances
and grow up fast.
In addition to the aforementioned “So Impossible,” two other  tracks made the cut from the So Impossible [EP], including the self-conscious, nervous-not-to mess-up-a-first impression narrative of “Remember to Breathe” and the unrequited love song “For You to Notice.”

2003’s A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar saw the band grow and take some more chances musically beyond the simple acoustic guitar formula. The album has more heavily produced than previous efforts. Still, the lyrics remained at the heart of their music. “Hey Girl,” was my one-time anthem for potential love interests. And “Hands Down” is arguably the most widely known Dashboard song, featuring a strong musical crescendo that culminates with the lyric, “And you kissed me like you meant it / And I knew that you meant it.”

In 2004, Dashboard recorded “Vindicated” for the Spider-Man 2 movie, but it was that song’s B-side, “Warmth of the Sand,” that made the compilation album for me. It’s a fun, light summer tune.

Speaking of summer, in 2006, Dashboard Confessional released Dusk and Summer, which landed four tracks on my compilation.  In addition to the title track, I really like “Don’t Wait,” “Heaven Here” and the piano-driven “So Long, So Long,” which features Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz on background vocals.

In 2007, Dashboard released its fifth studio album, The Shade of Poison Trees. The album was somewhat of a return to the band’s roots with more of an acoustic focus and less heavy production. “The Rush” is the only track from this album that made the cut.

Similarly, only one song made it from 2009’s Alter the Ending, which is the last album Dashboard released. The album was released in two formats with a regular electric version and a deluxe version that featured acoustic versions of all 12 tracks. Personally, I prefer the acoustic versions because they sound more reminiscent of the original Dashboard sound whereas the electric versions sometimes seem overproduced. “Get Me Right” (Acoustic) was the lone track from the album to make it onto my compilation.

From the opening of “So Impossible” to the closing of “So Long, So Long,” this Dashboard compilation is a cathartic trip down memory lane. The band’s name comes from a song lyric about confessing while driving alone in the car (aka a “dashboard confessional”). If you were a teen in the early or mid-2000s, your specific list of most meaningful Dashboard Confessional songs might differ, but your Dashboard Confessional experience was likely largely the same.

MM 30 at 30: Dashboard Confessional tracklist (finalized July 25, 2014)
1. So Impossible
2. This Ruined Puzzle
3. For You to Notice
4. Again I Go Unnoticed
5. The Brilliant Dance
6. The Best Deceptions
7. Hey Girl
8. Ender Will Save Us All
9. The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most
10. The Swiss Army Romance
11. Carve Your Heart Out Yourself
12. Don’t Wait
13. Get Me Right (Acoustic)
14. The Rush
15. Heaven Here
16. Hands Down
17. Remember to Breathe
18. As Lovers Go
19. Warmth of the Sand
20. Dusk and Summer
21. Age Six Racer
22. So Long, So Long

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