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Dashboard Confessional – The Shade of Poison Trees

The Shade of Poison Trees is stellar, and the best work Carrabba has done since The Swiss Army Romance.

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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.

(Vagrant Records)

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Crossed Keys – Saviors

Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds

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Crossed Keys Saviors

Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.

Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.

For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.

(Hellminded Records)

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Pine – Pine

Pine’s debut album is a kind of hypnotic melancholia

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Pine

Where did Ottawa’s Pine come from? It’s a question worth asking after listening to their painfully gorgeous self-titled debut album. Pine use the phrase “doom and gloom never sounded so sweet” to describe their sound, and true to that, this 11-track outing is filled with the kind of hypnotic melancholia that became the playbook for a great many Midwestern emo bands that emerged in the late 90s/early 2000s. The biggest difference here is that while Pine have the heartbreak down pat, their musical sense of loss is lifted slightly by the airy, more wistful sounds of their guitar-strewn songs. Sure, there’s a lot that sounds like a great Mineral record or a Gloria Record album, but there’s also traces of Florida indie/emo band The Rocking Horse Winner and at times, bands like Rainer Maria.

Pine are buoyed by the great vocal work of Darlene Deschamps. Her voice soars through tracks like “Memento” and the terrific “Lusk”. The latter in particular is a great example of how Pine lull you into a sense of calm before it explodes in a collage of symphonic distortion and post-rock twinkling. In “Sunder” they ascend to louder, more expansive sounds. The song is a great combination of thick, fuzzy guitars, mid-tempo percussion work, and that pained vocal delivery that gives the song an extra punch in the guts.

The album took an impressive 2 years to finish, and you can hear the trials and tribulations of that gestation period through the songs. There’s pain, sadness, anger and frustration in songs like the intro “Within You” and the more new emo-esque “Swollen”, but also beauty, and as the album concludes, a sense of incredible catharsis. The record SOUNDS great too, with production values (by a production team that includes Will Yip, who has helmed records by Circa Survive, Braid, Saosin, and the Bouncing Souls to name a few) adding to the grand cinematic finish of the record.

For those who love what emo was in the mid to late 90s will find much to like about Pine just as much as those who like Explosions in the Sky and their post-rock brethren. Pine have been crafting their sound over the last few years and while their previous EP Pillow Talk showed a solid foundation, this new self-titled record is the work of a band close to the height of their abilities. Moving, beautiful, and littered with life’s roller coaster of emotions as songs, Pine is definitely recommended listening.

(No Sleep Records)

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