Calling all Dashboard diehards – we know who we are. Together we throw our voices to the sweaty mist that rises above our mass of bodies. Like one huge open wound orgy, this Dashboard lovefest knows every lyric down to the last syllable. There is a short and tattooed man on stage with an acoustic guitar, and he stands a smidgen past five foot. His holy choir feeds off the heart he wears on his sleeve. The room sings as one, and our chords are hoarse by the third song.
I apologize for the mushy sentiments when I start rambling about Dashboard Confessional. I’ve grown up, but I’ll never stopped swooning for The Place You Have Come To Fear The Most. I thought the love affair stopped when Chris washed up with Dusk and Summer, but when word came ‘round that a new album was close by – a new album that was in the vein of his solo acoustic roots – I was right back to step one. And it’s true – The Shade of Poison Trees is more like the Dashboard that I fell in love with when I was 16. This may because according to Chris, the recording process for Poison Trees was an inspirationally flowing, organic experience. The branded Dashboard sound has always taken a naked and vulnerable structure and made it sound massive enough for kings. Poison Trees pays tribute that same primitive energy that breathes on in Swiss Army Romance and Places, especially when Chris runs his fingers raw in the acoustic “Keep Watch for the Mines.”
I had one great concern when hype for Poison Trees began swinging through my neighborhood: Dusk and Summer v2.0. The majority of last year’s full-length release had zero staying power for me (except “Reason to Believe”). This might have something to do with the point of music I was in at the time, but the album’s big anthems still never developed in anything better than radio-rock labors. However, I don’t think this anything to do with an electric guitar and here’s why: A Mark A Mission A Brand A Scar is damn good. The full-band, plugged in tracks on 2003’s AMAMABAS prove that Chris can write excellent songs that require electricity. Poison Trees re-channels that vigor, especially on tracks like “Thick as Thieves” and “Matters of Blood and Connection.”
Another interesting aspect of Poison Trees is the return of Dusk and Summer producer Don Gilmore (Pearl Jam, Linkin Park). The immensity of each arrangement leaves no detail concealed. Within the main feel of the album – its sincere overtone – its meaty and ambitious production fits just right. Lyrically, Chris is in his old sort, even though he never really had a new sort. Lines in the darling “Matters of Blood and Connection” and “Little Bombs” remind why I started to write about music in the first place. I’m overawed that my old Dashboard flame is rekindling; Poison Trees is exactly the mental refreshment I needed.
It would be nothing but dumb of me to chalk this album up to the impact and timing of Chris’ older releases; ultimately, I’m not 16 anymore. “The Windows Peak” and “Fever Dreams” are the two weakest tracks on the album, and “I Light My Own Fires Now” is outshined between “Little Bombs” and “Matters of Blood and Connection.” The album isn’t perfect, but neither am I. With age comes skepticism, and even then I’m finding very little to contest with this overall upshot. Chris never lost his game; he just took a water break.