“I feel heavy,” Chris Carraba sings on “Burning Heart,” the first song on All the Truth That I Can Tell, the first new Dashboard Confessional album in four years. We’re right there with you, man.
For most of the 21st century, Carraba, the artist concurrently known as Dashboard Confessional, pretty well embodied the idea of “emo.” Older punks might take issue with this, but for fans perhaps not even alive in ‘85, Dashboard’s deadly earnest version of that amorphous genre tag has meant everything from college-cafe acoustic tunes (emo as shout-along folk, per his 2000 debut, The Swiss Army Romance) to full-band outings (emo as shout-along indie rock, per 2003 breakout A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar — boy, does this guy know how to name a genre-catering record).
For his ninth album, Carraba goes back to his hard-strumming roots, making his most old-school Dashboard-y collection in years (it’s even produced by James Paul Weiser, who helmed the first two albums). It’s just Carraba and the guitar and melodies that would scale up brilliantly — “Sunshine State” starts like Eighties U2 before becoming an ode to Carraba’s home state, notably not a topic Bono ever tackled.
But instead of young, heart-sleeve punk, All the Truth is a veritable concept album about hitting your mid-40s with full-sleeve tats, a long marriage, and a couple of kids. Carraba says the songs were written in 2019, but in June 2020, he was severely injured in a motorcycle accident which resulted in on-going physical therapy and relearning how to play guitar. With this in mind, it’s striking to hear him tackle such themes as “picking yourself off the floor” (“Here’s the Moving On”); fighting for a relationship, be it with a person, an idea, or yourself (“Burning Heart”); and how kids are awesome and remind you of yourself but everything around them is incredibly stressful all the time (“Me and Mine”). But that’s the great thing about working in a subgenre designed to make triumphant music out of personal turmoil and righteous anger — it’s a weirdly solid preparation for the clobberings of adulthood.