Sound: Chris Carrabba's emotions haven't abated, and his niche audience will probably breathe a sigh of relief because of that fact. While some might complain that Dashboard Confessional's 6th studio album After the Ending is more of the same, the band would likely alienate a good batch of people if they didn't dish out another helping of personal and/or cathartic material. There are no huge surprises, but by the same token, Carrabba is an incredibly consistent songwriter. At least 10 out of the 12 tracks on After the Ending are fodder for the Billboard charts, and you can be guaranteed that at least a few will be used in TV and movies soundtracks to come.
According to the band's blog, the material was written after Carrabba took time off from social obligations. He mentioned the songs connected to each other, and it's true that there is a cohesive quality to the record both musically and lyrically. There's no shadow of a doubt that the tracks on After the Ending were penned by Carrabba, as each one is stamped with his emotionally-charged, let-your-feelings-all-out lyrical content. For those not of the sensitive variety, you'll be screaming emo and won't last for the duration of the CD. But for fans of Dashboard Confessional (rounded out by guitarist John Lefler, bassist Scott Schoenbeck, and drummer Mike Marsh), After The Ending is a logical (and likable) next step.
Big choruses tend to be a constant focal point for Dashboard Confessional, with the quartet making use of that habit in the opening track Get Me Right. The song kicks off with a fairly steady picking style against the vocals, and Carrabba's melodies are strong off the bat. It's fairly sedate in the beginning moments, but by the chorus Carrabba explodes with passion. That ability to build in energy and emotion is one of the band's great strengths. Some might tire of that format/formula if you tend to like a bit more variety, but it does work for Dashboard's genre. The Motions is one of the few that takes a different turn by maintaining a more energetic quality throughout the entire song (often following a Motion City Soundtrack keyboard-driven format), and it does make for a nice contrast.
There are a few moments on After the Ending that act as flashbacks to Carrabba's start as a solo acoustic artist. Even Now, No News Is Bad News, and the ending track Hell on the Throat all begin as stripped-down platforms for only vocals and acoustic, and although the full band eventually comes in, allowing Carrabba some alone time drives home the lyrical themes a bit more. Although Hell on the Throat is an incredibly mellow track, but it carries the quiet passion of a Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen). Granted, it's nowhere near that powerful, but it carries a lot of weight for having such an unassuming arrangement. // 9
Lyrics: Dashboard Confessional's lyrical content tends to have either a magnetizing or repelling factor for listeners. Carrabba is indeed pouring every little feeling he has out into his music, which has obviously been embraced by fans that can empathize with whatever emotional plight he may face. He does use lyrical devices, particular repeating specific lines with emphasis, that work in the songs' favor. The main issue will be whether you can tolerate all of his talk about emotions. If you don't mind a song like Even Now, which dedicates every line to discussing endearing qualities about a specific girl (Even now I can feel your hand gently over mine with almost no weight at all; Even now I can feel your eyes watch me as I strum much too late at night and so on and so forth), then every other track should be smooth sailing. // 8
Overall Impression: It should be noted that certain editions of After The Ending will also include acoustic performances by Carrabba for each of the 12 tracks. The singer/guitarist is still a centerpiece for the band, and it's essentially his lyrical content and emotional delivery that drives the music. The album oozes sensitivity, and that will be the primary turnoff for some people. The musicianship is solid whether by adding piano sections to Hell on the Throat or a trippy guitar effect to Water and Bridges and the band does deserve credit as a whole. The true, however, is that the songs will likely still carry the same weight when stripped down to just the guitar and vocals, which is why the bonus CD was a brilliant move on the part of Carrabba. // 8