New Dashboard Confessional Record Is a Love Letter

All The Truth That I Can Tell is just a mere three days old, but we can already state for a fact that listening to this album is a rejuvenating, inspiring experience.

Years ago, Chris Carrabba posted a picture on Instagram of a post-it that said, “Let them love you.” I’ve never been particularly good at that. I’m always a little mystified when people stick around, honestly, and I’m not sure where that trait comes from. But after seeing his note, I realized I needed to see those words – so I have post-its all over my office. Only I can see them, and only from my chair, where I need it the most. In All The Truth That I Can Tell, Chris Carrabba seems to be tearing apart the seams of younger versions of himself that couldn’t believe how much people loved him. To say it’s refreshing to hear a man sing about trying to be – and then being – a better version of himself is an understatement. But to hear him talk about the people who helped him get to that place (his wife, his children, his friends) is beautiful. I’ve been a Dashboard Confessional fan for so long that my expectations for the new record were overwhelming and almost impossible to meet. Somehow, Carrabba has exceeded them. 

I can’t write about Dashboard Confessional without talking about my own life and filtering the lyrics through my lens: I’m pretty sure that’s something the band has done intentionally. Their records have always felt like friends, and All The Truth That I Can Tell is no different. I’m a happily married woman who had a stroke five years ago. My kid is 17. It’s impossible for me to listen to a record that, in so many places, tenderly touches on the topic of witnessing life with a beloved spouse, or that talks about the strangest part of healing – the part where it’s uncomfortable, and you’re not sure if ‘healing’ just means everyone is relieved you are ‘better,’ and you’re not allowed to be changed by the experience anymore. That said: how can anyone not listen to a beautiful love song and think of the face they love the most? Who isn’t healing from something and a little scared about who they’ll be on the other side? The greatest strength of Dashboard Confessional is the sincerity, and that means every review – even when a reviewer is able to resist the first person – will be personal. The subject matter demands it. 

For example, in “Pain Free in Three Chords,” Carrabba’s voice pulls at the edges to create his classic sound, a deep voice that, at any moment, can turn to the perfect emo-yell, and he sings, “I’m starting to hurt / Or to heal / I forget how to tell / Cos I’m stuck in this rut” – but then he turns the narrative – “of relief.” His life informs this record: he is in love with his wife and family, but during the pandemic, had a traumatic motorcycle accident that required multiple shoulder surgeries and a long recovery, mostly alone. There’s no way to write autobiographically without that event informing the narrative. And selfishly? It feels like someone ghost-wrote my own autobiography. I have a column called “Things That Look More Like Me Than My Face” at Hobart, because since my stroke, I literally don’t recognize my face. I have no connection to the person in the mirror. How can I be anything but moved by lines like, “No one’s pain free / I look at myself and I see / Someone’s eyes in the mirror and I wanna shout / ‘That was me, those were mine/ But something about that’s a lie…”. You don’t have to be dealing with the literal disconnect that I am to feel a deep kinship with those lines: who hasn’t looked in the mirror to find a stranger? But isn’t that what listening to Dashboard Confessional is about? You don’t put these records on without knowing you’re going to be on a journey of the band’s self-exploration – and your own. 

The record has some beautiful up-tempo numbers, but most of it is acoustic and feels a little like sitting around a campfire. I remember when “Hands Down” came out being impressed by the beauty and the throw-down in the end, the absolute abandon of throwing your head back and screaming, “Hands down, this is the best day I can ever remember.” I remember, when I was first dating my husband, thinking after our first kiss that he “kissed me like [he] meant it” and feeling like all was right in the world. On All the Truth You Can Tell, it seems like Carrabba has written the second part of that epic song in the reflective acoustic quiet of “Young,” which is about the beauty and plunge of young love, but also about how that love evolves and what that looks like 20 years later. It acknowledges the past while asking in the present, “Will you be my heart?” (It also provides a fascinating counterpart to “Stolen” where the repeated line is, “You have stolen my heart,” because it is an invitation, something so much more raw and vulnerable.)

Instrumentation is sparse, which makes the intensity of the guitar the driving force of the sonic emotion of the songs, for the most part. The piano on title track, however, is subtly leading and takes the listener through a dark moment – being taken advantage of when the singer was in pain or in a moment of weakness – and expands it into a story where changing a few “specificities” and “identities” transforms painful events into… well, all the truth that he can tell. (Also, just for the record, I’m not sure there’s a more beautiful way of describing playing music than, “I take the stage and I / Collapse in fractured rhyme / Surrounded by a crowd of friends / They sing along with message.” It feels almost like a Paul Simon song.)

In some ways, the record is unfortunately prescient on a much larger scale: God knows war is always internal and in the last week, it has been made external. In both scenarios, Carrabba’s voice is taut and full of compassion, ready to be in the trenches with you. For example, in “The Better of Me,” when he sings: “I was something, I swear it / Before life got the better of me / Life is hard / Just a series of battle scars / And some fights we won / And some fights we lost / In the war that we never signed on for / We keep holding our heads high / Or hold each other and just cry / And nobody’s wrong, and no lines are drawn / And everyone’s here and nobody’s gone.”

Uncharacteristically, the song ends with a long electric guitar outro that seems to express the same frustration and desire for connection that the lyrics do. Carrabba has always been a master of tone and it’s never been more clear than on tracks like this, where part of it could have easily been on The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most and part of it would have been more at home on their last record, Crooked Shadows. 

It’s almost impossible to talk about a record this solid because I want you to read every word to every song; Carrabba has never been one to crank out records just to have a product, which means when he does have a collection of songs, they are coherent, part of a larger tapestry. He’s painfully vulnerable, which is part of why he became the face of the emo movement at the beginning of his career, and part of why people think they can write Dashboard Confessional off. There is an uncoolness in being completely honest about emotional topics, especially falling in love or feeling isolated even when in a crowded room. Carrabba is an expert when it comes to matching the sound to the lyrics and emotions, though. He’s also completely aware of Dashboard’s place in music history and – while it might be uncool to be sincere – it’s incredibly cool not to change his core self in order to seem more ironic. This is the kind of openness that makes me want to talk about every moment. 

For example, how could I possibly discuss this record without talking about the absolute gentleness of “Sleep In,” where he shows the relationship through setting first: “You took my gloveless hand in yours / One pocket shared to keep both warm… / and I thought, ‘it’s too cold by far to snow’ / The sidewalk wasn’t salted, though / We slipped somewhere…” It’s impossible not feel like I’m falling in love again, because in this moment, he has found the most important details and described them so well that maybe you’ll feel a little uncool, yourself. I don’t bother worrying about that. Connection is connection, and we need it more than ever in this world – and I feel so connected and whole when I listen to these songs. I actually cried at the end of the very short love song, partially because it is rare to find a song that honors a long relationship so well. One of my favorite pictures of my husband of 11 years is from an all-nighter where we ended up at a diner, just like this couple – so when Carrabba sings, “And you said to me, ‘remember this,’ / And so I still remember it / And though you didn’t say why / I believed you had a reason,” it feels so pointed that my own memory and love story sharpens again in my mind. What a gift, to play a song and hear my own love story, but that’s the magic of Dashboard Confessional. Most of us have had a night where everything normal seems magic and new and perfect because of who we’re with. Chris Carrabba just knows how to take that moment and create something universally specific. 

(Oh, and if I thought I was going to stop crying after “Sleep In,” that was a grave mistake. The next track, “Me and Mine,” is one of the most beautiful love songs from a father to children that I’ve ever heard – and that’s to say nothing of the beautiful wrap up at the end where he talks about thanking God for his children and his wife, who witnesses all these perfect tiny moments with him. It reminds me of Ben Folds’s “Still Fighting It,” but without the bittersweetness. This song absolutely steamrolled me.)

Carrabba didn’t leave you out, though. He wrote a love song to you, too. It feels indulgent when there are so many perfect songs (the intensity of “Southbound and Sinking!” The incredible vocal work on the chorus of “Burning Heart!”) to talk about one twice, but you’ll have to forgive me: the title track works on so many levels. After talking about a concert in which Carrabba listens to a friend’s set, relishes the success, and then plays a show himself in “All the Truth That I Can Tell” (which closes out the album), he talks about calling his wife, and recounts this conversation. “I call home to you / And you call me your secret name / And I say, ‘What a show / You shoulda seen them, though / I wish I could take them with me’ / And you just kinda laugh / Say I already have / ‘They’re in you, now / They’ll always be.’” You see it now, right? Dashboard Confessional is so full of love and the desire to connect that they love you, too. They are desperate for you to be loved, to feel the same magnetism Carrabba himself does for the whole world. How can do you anything but love them back?