A triumph


Here’s another post, five years later. A personal blog / website kind of needs a reason to be, and this space hasn’t had that for awhile. All I can promise about what follows this sentence is that it’ll be earnest. Planned or well-put-together would be pushing it after all this time.

It’s funny now to think back to a decade ago, starting to blog when the blogging craze hit full steam, feeling a sense of purpose in doing it even though readership was probably like four people. Nowadays blogging can be lucrative business, but 99% of blogs likely go totally unread. Content drives readership, though, and so if you want eyeballs and mindshare you actually need to say something – preferably something challenging, helpful, thematically-tied, and so on.

Growing up I always looked forward to this time of life – young family, young kids, working hard all day and enjoying quality time with wife and fam-jam in the evenings. In retrospect, I’m kinda glad I did – meant I made some choices then that better prepared me for now. Some things can’t be prepared for, like how all-consuming having little ones can be.

Now, some of this is neglect on my part, but some of it is just reality for those who pour into their own – I’ve finished like 4 books in the last five years (since kid one came along), written just a handful of posts here, and for all intents and purposes whatever hobbies I had before have been left shelved during this season too.

It’s been worth it. Totally. But as worth it as it’s been… it’s been really, really nice lately to revisit old friends like the guitar, the written word, and (as of this post) putting thoughts to words.

I learned to play guitar ten or twelve years ago, mostly hoping it would impress the ladies (spoiler: it didn’t, not really anyway – though it may have had to do with my poor song choices… a little Dashboard Confessional heavy). Circling back to it now that there’s time to invest a little has been like rediscovering a lost limb. It was missing, it was needed, I survived without it, but it’s really, really nice to have it back and functioning. Helps that I’m not as bound-and-determined to try and learn metal songs on an acoustic guitar now, too.

I do quite a bit of written words and other creative outlets at work. That’s really sated my most urgent need for such, and I’m thankful for it. It’s been actually really fun to re-discover and re-develop dormant skills in graphic design, photography and videography… not to mention brainstorm concise, clear terminology (technical or otherwise) to help people understand core concepts of what we do. Challenges abound, but the fun kind – the kind you get energized by. Having been at MSC now for over three years, one of the best things about it by far has been the front-row seat to seeing an historic institution (75 years this year!) successfully navigate the massive undertaking of adapting to modern methods without sacrificing core identity components. The determination to not just survive but thrive is an important thing – anything can survive a long time in cruise control, but to risk and push and strive for excellence is in another echelon of living and being. I’m glad to serve in a place where thriving matters.

Isn’t it funny just how true all the cliches about time going by so quickly are? It’s Christmas again, we’re already fifteen years into the “new millenium” and we now carry supercomputers in our pocketses. We call them phones, but if you’re like me, it’s much more a pocket computer than a phone. Phone calls are so last millenium!

…breakdown in three quarters

Current Tunage: Frodus – Out-Circuit The Ending
In the dust of the least design I will take to the sky

Pictured is Durn. Weilding “Jin’Rokh, The Great Apocalypse”. Now at rest.

3 / 4

One to go.

Commentary: It feels so good to be done. Third year was difficult – not necessarily in terms of the content studied. Difficult in every way but scholastically, and so academics were thus rendered difficult as well. I feel like I’ve been stretched every way possible, and yet I know this is just the tiny, visible peak of a monstrous iceberg.

This year is significant for many reasons, but few of them relate to school. This year marked the beginning of my first real relationship in ~4 years. Real, in this case, meaning “she is actually, in fact, interested and reciprocal; capable of making her mind up and being clear about it”. I apologize if the previous sentence comes off as bitter, as I’m not much bitter anymore, just glad to not be tired in the same way I was when that sort of thing bothered me (ie. right before meeting Steph). To add encouragement to healing, I found myself engaged shortly thereafter to someone I oft refer to as “Miss MyUniverse”, among many other things. I freely admit my human propensity towards bias and preference and subjectivity, but I honestly and holistically would submit my Fiancee as the best woman in all chronology, geography, and my unchanging opinion. Bar none. If you disagree, I will fight you and your ignorance (gently).

Consequential to these remarkable and unexpected developments, focusing on academics has often been the last thing on my mind this year – and my marks will likely show the proof. I do expect to pass everything (some by the skins of their teeth), for which I am thankful and admittedly quite surprised in a couple of cases. Papers and topics for them filled my head throughout the year, and I feel some of my best writing ever was done – and some of the most mediocre as well. I discovered I rather dislike open-ended English essays, and rather love open-ended Philosophy essays. I nurtured a growing passion for poetry (which hasn’t really manifested itself in much writing for my poetry blog as of yet, but I’m sure it will come. Finally, I took to calling myself a “Philosophy and English joint major” where before I had called myself an “English and Philosophy joint major”. The reasoning is simple: I get excited about Philosophy. Almost always. English Literature, (especially the historical, remembering names and junk stuff) not so much.

Without further ado:

Annual Thirty “Best” Things of 0708 school year:
01. Going with Al & Shane & Gord to Barrie to commit random high-jinks.
02. Doing 2v2 Arenas with my friend “Serida” in the Fall (August-November ’07).
03. Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii – a more ‘epic win’ could not be conceived.
04. Getting myself into a real, honest-to-goodness relationship with someone-awesome.
05. Getting engaged to that same someone-awesome.
06. Thursday nights studying Colossians here at the house with my TCF small group.
07. Playing Dustin Kensrue’s “Blanket of Ghosts” with Todd at TCF Coffee House in honour of Robert Jordan. RIP.
08. Five months of unemployment (which was, simultaneously among the worst things).
09. No classes on Thursdays.
10. Getting both of my characters in WoW to level 70.
11. Quitting World of Warcraft in December. Again. For good this time. (It’s even uninstalled.)
12. Regular weekends in Toronto visiting Steph and so many other friends.
13. Trips way up North (South Porcupine) for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Premarital Counselling Round 1.
14. Mondays hanging out with Todd, talkin’ life.
15. Early Modern Philosophy with M. Neumann, and, more importantly, T. Anderson.
16. Acquiring a second family. /wave
17. TCF Retreats Fall & Winter.
18. Our new boarder – my friend Shane!
19. Finding my old green toque. Wearing it.
20. Walking the pooch (Nuka) late at night during warmer months.
21. Dangerous prayers.
22. Installing Covenant Eyes. Reaping the benefits.
23. Opening a PC Financial account. So. Good.
24. Studying Metaphysics, Epistemology, and 20th Century Continental Philosophy.
25. Joining up as a staff writer for The Phantom Tollbooth.
26. Not getting Windows Vista, a Mac, an iPod, a metal water bottle, a blackberry, etc. XP really is better…
27. Playing Team Fortress 2 and DotA with my brothers, friends, and enemies.
28. Having a sweet, sweet beard. Getting rid of a sweet, sweet beard.
29. Renos on my room being finished after a decade in limbo.
30. Stephanie.

Sleep soundly in silence
Knowing that we will never return
To what we once were
What was now is a distant memory
I guess that I should thank you
For freeing me from my naivety
-Project 86 “Breakdown in 3/4”

Annual Ten Most Important “New-To-Me” Records of 0708 school year:
01. Sev & Dust – “Back To Dust”
02. Thrice – “The Alchemy Index”
03. Project 86 – “Rival Factions”
04. As Cities Burn – “Come Now Sleep”
05. Matthew Good – “Hospital Music”
06. He Is Legend – “Suck Out The Poison”
07. Dashboard Confessional – “The Shade Of Poison Trees”
08. Lovedrug – “Everything Starts Where It Ends”
09. August Burns Red – “Messengers”
10. Oh, Sleeper – “When I Am God”

This is the sound that drives you to deny
These are the words that remind you we’re alive
This is the voice that haunts you in your sleep
Outdated, forgotten, we’re yesterday’s obsolete
-Project 86 “Breakdown in 3/4”

And my general plan now… is to rest. And work my (posterior) off. And contribute more than my share of the wedding planning. And have phun with friends. And read books I want to. And write lots of music reviews. And blog posts. And and and… get married.


…stick with me

Title: The Shade of Poison Trees
Artist: Dashboard Confessional
Label: Vagrant Records
Length: 12 Tracks / 33:37

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Chris Carrabba. It was a summer evening and I was trying fruitlessly to fall asleep lying in a tent on the hard ground. My sleeping bag offered barely enough cushioning to make the hard ground bearable. I decided that rather than tossing and turning for the next hour, I may as well have a listen through one of the records I’d purchased earlier that day: Further Seems Forever’s The Moon Is Down.

I was greeted with the building roar of a landing plane, and as the guitars began to swirl around me a voice broke in. Awkward sounding at times, but littered with intense emotions and utilizing an excellent command of English lyric. Further Seems Forever went on to become one of my all-time favourites. Chris Carrabba, however, had left the band just before the album was released.

After poking around a bit, I discovered that he had left to pursue a solo project entitled Dashboard Confessional. Intrigued, I fired up my 56k modem (this was 2001) and downloaded a pair of songs: “The Best Deceptions” and “Anyone, Anyone”. After that, my story is like many others who love Dashboard Confessional: Heard a couple songs, fell in love with the unrestrained passion of it all, took up guitar on principle. There was just something about the bluntness, the honesty, and the raw emotion on display that was utterly gripping

Since then, it’s been an interesting journey. Dashboard fans will often be heard referring to “Old Dashboard”, by which they refer to Chris’ first handful of offerings: 2000’s Drowning EP and The Swiss Army Romance, as well as 2001’s The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most and So Impossible EP. These early releases were uniform in that they were very instrumentally minimalistic. Additionally, they heavily relied on Chris’ growing strength as a vocalist (and in some ways his then-inexperience) as well as his keen ear for layering acoustic guitars.

In the time since then, Dashboard Confessional as a project has evolved and been redefined numerous times, with 2003’s A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar and 2006’s Dusk And Summer going in much more of an arena rock and Americana direction. Dashboard’s popularity soared as these new sounds made Chris and his rotating lineup of band mates far more accessible to the general public than his earlier and perhaps more intimate works.

I heard a lot about this record before its release. People were saying it was a “return to form”, that Chris had retaken the reins and brought back the “classic” Dashboard sound. Earlier this year, the independently released album of covers The Wire Tapes Volume 1 hinted at the same conclusion. However, after spending a month with The Shade of Poison Trees, I would venture to suggest that this isn’t really the case. Certainly, when held relative to A Mark… or Dusk and Summer, it is easy to see why purists have been rejoicing: There’s nary an electric guitar to be found on this record, and very little in the way of percussion. These are things it shares in common with the early records. The Shade of Poison Trees isn’t those records, much as it relies on acoustic guitars and minimalistic layering (hardly another instrument to be found) just as they do.

This similarity serves to handily showcase an important difference between “Old Dashboard” and this new offering: the measures to which Chris’ strength as a vocalist has grown since So Impossible and Places. For many, the gravelly waver of his vocals on the early recordings was one of their most endearing qualities – but for those who appreciate and value growth in the artists they enjoy, it is heartening to listen closely to the far greater measure of vocal command and maturity shown on this record.

Lyrically, this record is rather removed from the tragedies and laments of Places and Swiss Army Romance. Shade finds Chris continuing in the excellence of his ability to weave stories, but delving into his more recent conceptual realms: introspection and nostalgia. As always, the content is still firmly grounded in the discordant dynamics of male-female relationships. However, on Shade the places he goes with that constant theme follows the more recent pattern of A Mark and Dusk by noticeably making more variable what exactly can fit into that constant.

By means of summary: Chris Carrabba’s vocal abilities have grown in leaps and bounds in the past few years and this album showcases them excellently. Lyrically and structurally, the tracks are as strong as any he’s written and show a depth and maturity of content few could have ever anticipated five or six years ago. Sonically this album has dropped the rock and Americana of the past couple releases and harkens back to classic Dashboard, while maintaining a lot of the musical sensibility and forward progression that have developed in the past few years. I highly recommend it to anyone somewhat alienated by the direction of A Mark and/or Dusk and Summer, and also to anyone just getting into Dashboard Confessional for the very first time. This is a strong record; an enjoyable listen with enough depth and clarity to give it the staying power of anything Chris Carrabba has put his efforts into up to this point.

The Shade of Poison Trees is not “Old Dashboard”, and it’s all the stronger for it.

Four Poisoned Apples out of Five.

Standout tracks: These Bones, The Shade of Poison Trees, Little Bombs, Clean Breaks.

Jerry Bolton 23/10/2007