Dashboard Confessional's latest record --a steady pick on early critics' year-end lists -- is remarkable for its successful articulation of a justifiably maligned persona: the bright, juvenile poet who, even though he read all the right books and listened to most of the right music, is still a terrible, selfish, venal little pickup artist. I'm not saying that Chris Carrabba is out for your children or anything, although he looks good in a T-shirt, has intense eyes, can write a pretty (if not exactly moving) tune now and then, and would probably stand outside your daughter's residence hall in the rain if he really dug her.
But after several listens, I can't shake the feeling that, beneath all of the windy professions of love or confusion on A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar, there lurks a pied piper's sanctimoniousness -- or, even worse, callow calculations. Many of Carrabba's lyrics are pleas and conversations with women he's loved and lost, and most of those emphasize his malleability as a romantic selling point. Oh, good -- an articulate boyfriend who will say and be anything to get some action. Who can't rally around deception and illusion as surefire ways to win friends and influence people? That spineless line of bullshit makes the reprehensible, whiny, passive-aggressive girl-bashing on display in songs such as "So Beautiful" and "Rapid Hope Loss" even more difficult to endure.
I'm not coming down on the man's female troubles because he's an emo poster-boy. There are countless rock geniuses who can't figure women out. But from Elvis Costello to Buck 65, their concerns seem both pop and grown-up. Dashboard Confessional, with its legions of online testimonials and weepy teenage fans, is kid's stuff at best. If Carrabba imagines he's making anything other than a curio for the very young and moderately confused, he's sorely mistaken. Would an adult have ever penned a chorus as lachrymose as "Is there anything worth waiting for?/Worth living for?/Worth dying for?"
Want an answer, Carrabba? Close your notebook and open your eyes. --Addison Engelking
Belle & Sebastian
God yes, Belle & Sebastian is still twee, almost aggressively so. However, they've found a strong rhythm section to bolster and beef up their precious tunes on their sixth recording.
The effect of this is unpredictable. Sometimes they sound like a thoughtful Bay City Rollers (and, yes, that's a compliment), and at other times they suggest an alliance between Donovan and Wishbone Ash. In other words, Belle & Sebastian have learned how to boogie. And boy, do they. There are even "heavy" guitar solos over many of these rhythm-section romps.
Trevor Horn, producer of bloated Brit-pop (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Art of Noise, and the not-too-awful Buggles), mixed this thing, but his production is uncharacteristically restrained and tasteful. (I bet the mild Glaswegians had a tussle or two with him in the studio over the control of the mixing board; it sounds like they won too.) Horn even seems to have allowed the band to play on their own record. (The old production tyrant must be mellowing.) No Pro Tools or horrible massed synths to be heard here.
Per usual for Belle & Sebastian, there's a weird sexual metaphor or two in the lyrics department. The opener, "Step Into My Office, Baby," is rife with bawdy lines. For a band that seems a little bloodless at times, they surprise with their abiding interest in s-e-x.
I've tried to work up some contempt for this all-too-clever yet achingly sincere slice of Scottish pop rock, with its awful cover photo (worse than a Lou Reed album back when he was on RCA; now that was some bad cover art) and its dweeby, confessional songs. I just can't though. Oh God, there's no hope for me; I've become a Belle & Sebastian fan. Stop me before I buy a Morrissey record.
This custom-made historical anomaly sounds like real early New York punk rock at the exact moment it started fooling around with new wave. I'm not showing off or making another hackneyed comparison with the glorious here -- it's hard not to imagine this record as a demo left on a shelf by a drug-fogged John Cale in 1978, whereupon it was rediscovered years later by some rabid fan/janitor who saw all 12 of the band's NYC-only gigs and maxed out all his credit cards and worked Saturdays to finance the very limited re-release. I know this never happened, but if there was ever a sound worth revisiting, it's certainly this NY Dolls-Voidoids-disco-Vibrators lip-flouncing party music. Vocalist Geremy Jasper survives on pout, thrown-together urban imagery, and the ghostly bones of first-wave glam-rockers. The rollicking (really, there's no other word) rhythms set the table for all the jagged squeals and scrapes that guitarchivist Sanchez Esquire can muster over 15 minutes. His leads and fills explode and collapse in all the right places, never more so than on the Manhattan rallying cry "Bridge & Tunnel."
Still not convinced? Pink on Pink opens with the best song featuring a nonsense chorus since "De Doo Doo Doo, De Da Da Da." It's cheaper than the new White Stripes and Strokes records, and it's a more enjoyable, less ego-driven nostalgia trip than either of them. If you get it now, with any luck I won't have to refinance my starter home to reissue it in 2020. --AE
The Dismemberment Plan
The remix album is the stepchild of any discography, unless you are a slovenly completist. Very rarely, as is the case with the forgotten Grand Royal casualty Buffalo Daughter, is it the only release in a band's oeuvre worth listening to. The Dismemberment Plan have cleverly offset the stigma attached to remix albums (that stigma being, "Oh, I'll save my money for something else") with a proletarian approach. As if apologizing to fans for breaking up, an invitation was extended via the band's Web site to remix favorite Dismemberment Plan tracks. A hot dozen were picked for this odd swan song that is as good as, well, a remix album that you would have passed on anyway.
What makes remixing a really bad idea with the Dismemberment Plan specifically is lead singer Travis Morrison's voice. It is a voice that must pilot a rock song, and it sounds painfully awkward chopped up and thrown about someone's bedroom laptop creation. Whereas the Dismemberment Plan would have never worked without Morrison's voice, this record could. This soils an otherwise serviceable electronic outing: The reconstructions of "Time Bomb" and "A Life of Possibilities" are mood-elevating goodness on the level of that Avalanches album (2000's Since I Left You) and stand to be repeatedly burned onto comp CDs. Not all's lost, but I get the feeling that whoever is going to own this CD already does. -- Andrew Earles