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A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar

Dashboard Confessional

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Album Review

By the time their third studio album, the cumbersomely titled A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar, was released in the summer of 2003, Dashboard Confessional had long been poised as the band that would bring emo crashing into the mainstream. Never mind that Weezer already did that, before this kind of music even had a name — during the late '90s, while Weezer was away, emo became an underground phenomenon ignored by the press and built by word of mouth by sensitive teenagers eager for music that spelled out their feeling explicitly. Other emo bands were purer or rawer, but Dashboard Confessional had one thing in their favor: the band was essentially a showcase for its singer/songwriter, Chris Carrabba. Blessed with modelesque good looks, Carrabba is a heartthrob for the misunderstood, partially because of those beautiful features, but also partly because he is a more sensitive singer/songwriter than James Taylor, appealing to the anxious adolescent still learning how to navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of love. Nearly all emo is defiantly adolescent in its word and approach — it disregards such niceties as melody, hooks, subtlety, and craft, favoring raw unfettered expression of emotion instead — but where other emo bands get caught in the Sturm und Drang by bittersweetly concentrating on matters of the heart, Dashboard Confessional have a wider appeal, not least because the band is not so damn noisy as its emo brethren. Prior to this album, Carrabba was like all other emo songwriters in that he didn't so much write songs as put diary entries to music, adjusting the instrumental backdrop to fit the mood of his words, but never bothering to add in enough hooks to snare in somebody who wasn't already a fan or on a similar emotional wavelength. Here, he hires Gil Norton — best known for his production of the Pixies' Doolittle — as producer, and Norton draws hooks out of Carrabba's songs and gives color to his sound. This means A Mark is the most musical emo album and easily the most accessible, consistent record in Dashboard's canon, a record that doesn't push its emotion to the front, preferring to draw the listener in gradually. This is a notable improvement, at least in terms of general listenability, but it doesn't remove the fact that Carrabba's writing, like much of emo, is interminably adolescent. He's now writing more memorable songs, largely because he's learning how to construct hooks and melodies, but the incessant need to artlessly spill the contents of his heart limits his appeal. Unlike other masters of mercurial teenage moods — whether it's Pete Townshend, Morrissey, or Rivers Cuomo, whose work continues to resonate as it and the listeners grow older — Carrabba's work is so specifically stuck in adolescence that, even if it's presented in a prettier package as it is on A Mark, it's still very difficult for anybody past sophomore year in college to really connect with his music. [The album was also released with a limited-edition DVD.]

Biography

Formed: 1999 in Boca Raton, FL

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Singer/songwriter Christopher Carrabba became the poster boy for a new generation of emo fans in the early 2000s, having left behind his former band (the post-hardcore Christian outfit Further Seems Forever) to concentrate on vulnerable, introspective solo musings. Armed with an acoustic guitar and soul-baring song lyrics, he christened his new project Dashboard Confessional — named after a lyric in "The Sharp Hint of New Tears" — and began releasing material in 2000. By 2001's The Place...
Full bio

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