Dashboard Confessional’s biggest hit was arguably 2004’s “Vindicated,” a song fitting for its place on the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack with its larger than life emotional histrionics and perfectly crafted melodies. It was a summer song of love and hope, anger and despair, and everything that seemed to embody Dashboard Confessional, and in a sense, Chris Carrabba himself, as a songwriter. Yet, he was unfairly characterized as emo’s poster boy, pegged as that soft-spoken, but talented songwriter who wrote “Screaming Infidelities” over and over again until the strings would inevitably unravel. Confirmed by the able but rather flaccid sounding Dusk And Summer last year, it appeared as if Carrabba had done everything he could in “full-band” format- writing some great radio tunes, playing out the stadiums, landing a prominent spot on a big movie soundtrack and entering at regular places on hit charts. The connection seemed lost, at least from an audience’s stand point- the songs were there, but the once prominent affinity between singer and listener appeared rather lifeless.
So how does Carrabba rekindle the magnetic relationship between his songs and his throngs of listeners? Well, as cliché as it first sounds, returning to his roots has produced some truly wondrous results. The Shade of Poison Trees is the first time since 2001’s The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most that Carrabba has appeared without the distinct air of trying to sound as big as possible, and what’s most clear upon listening is how connected he appears again. From the opening strums of the rather dapper “Where There’s Gold,” Carrabba’s songwriting once again takes center stage- literally, as all the enhancements of his more recent work are all but gone. Replacing the loud guitars and in-studio twiddlings is this re-found envy of every heart-sleeved boy dreaming of writing that perfect song for that (not so) perfect girl.
Songs like the achingly beautiful “The Shade of Poison Trees,” and the fuller sounding “Clean Breaks” and “I Light My Own Fires Now,” prove that he really doesn’t need anything but himself and a guitar to write a great song. Even on the tracks where Carrabba reaches for more conventional ground (like the peppy single “Thick As Thieves” or the U2-sounding “The Rush”) he is able to find the right balance between pop and lonely bedroom melodrama. Carrabba has always had a more caustic tone to his writing- straying away from more conventional lyrical overtures and formulaic expressions of love and bitterness- and it once again takes shape on his latest; see the refrain in “Where There’s Gold”; “Where there’s gold / there’s a gold digger.” Similarly, the album’s most interesting track is an example of Carrabba eschewing his own blueprint- shifting the viewpoint away from first person narrative to more observant of outlooks in “Matters of Blood and Connection,” a tale about a charlatan who parades with the working class while hiding his/her true blue blood upbringing. Its anecdote is sound; “With daughters and sons of privileged elite / The fortunes from shipping and industry / The futures in yacht clubs and tales / So why do you speak with that accent now / Everyone knows you’re moonlighting here” and a welcome curve from the conventional Dashboard lyrical imagery.
Musical growths aside, the best parts of the album are undoubtedly the moments that are most personal because it seems as if Carrabba has once again found his place in his craft. The deeply personal songs, like the aforementioned “The Shade of Poison Trees,” and the grand closing of “The Widows Peak,” perform in unison with his more outreaching numbers- working seamlessly together. Collectively, The Shade of Poison Trees is stellar, and the best work Carrabba has done since The Swiss Army Romance.
The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites
We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!
It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.
The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.“
It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.
Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?
It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new.
It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?
We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home.
How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?
It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked.
Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?
Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.
I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them.
For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?
We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music. With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since.
How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?
It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback.
I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?
It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first.
Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?
I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world.
Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?
I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s.
How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.
I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album.
The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.
Allweather – Through the Floor
Debut album from San Diego’s Allweather is a compelling listen
Where did Allweather come from? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself through the first 5-6 times I listened to their debut album Through the Floor. Collectively the songs reminded me of a sound prominent in the mid-90s; tempered by the album’s melodic-hardcore demeanor. Punctuated by the terrific strained vocals, the initial reaction was to equate Allweather to a band somewhere in between early Polar Bear Club and early to mid-Transit. The music, for the most part, takes pop punk but substitutes the saccharine for more gruff melodies and the kind of pained, mid-tempo emotion that made those bands household names. But listen after listen I felt that was another connection; one that resonated with me more than those aforementioned bands did.
It hit me after listening to “Another Sad Song” for the umpteenth time- Allweather, while sonically more akin to current pop punk’s downtrodden, baggage-saddled sound, resonates closer to that of melodic-hardcore greats Lifetime. In part because vocally, Allweather’s vocalist Tim Putnam is so close to that of Ari Katz that it is almost impossible to discern between the two. And that is a very good thing- because Katz’s vocals reverberate as powerfully as it did back in 1995 as it does today. In Allweather’s case, listen to songs like “Grim Ave” and the a capella opening of “Die Slow” and you can swear that these songs are cuts off Hello Bastards or Jersey’s Best Dancers. Allweather employs more mid-tempo structures than they do Lifetime’s breakneck pace, but the sum of the parts make Through the Floor a compelling listen, even if the Lifetime comparison isn’t 100%.
“Groundswell” is probably the album’s best outing; melodic, emotional, hard-hitting in a way Texas is the Reason was, while “Die Slow” is not far behind for its sincerely great Lifetime-esque similarities.
For a band relatively new (having only released a two-song digital album prior in 2017), there is already so much to like and look forward to. Composed and packing a punch, those who miss the melodic but pained sounds of bands like Texas is the Reason, and of course, Lifetime, need not look much further than Allweather to find that what is old (and great) is new again.