Dashboard Confessional - A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar (Now Is Then Is Now) (Cover Artwork)

Dashboard Confessional

A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar (Now Is Then Is Now) (2019)

Self Released

Very early on the morning (or late at night on the west coast) of June 21, Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba tweeted out what looked to be new designs of three of his band’s most successful albums with the caption “Now is then is now.” A link led you to be able to access those three albums, Alter The Ending, Dusk And Summer, and A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar, each seemingly having been reworked. As A Mark, A Mission is one of the fan favorites (and not to mention the band’s most commercially successful) that seemed like as good a place to start as any.

But when the listener starts the album, which leads off with the recognizable opening notes of “Hands Down,” it quickly becomes clear that it’s actually not so recognizable. Instead, Carrabba’s voice comes in not with force, but with a raspiness; almost a raised whisper. The now-famous chorus hits not with a bang, but with reserved emotion and minimal instrumentation. And this new arrangement of the song is fantastic.

What Dashboard Confessional has given us is a reworked version of A Mark, A Mission which continues in the aforementioned way- reserved and whistful - for its entirety, mostly to positive results. Songs like “Carry This Picture,” and “Ghost of a Good Thing” are much stronger than their originals, mainly due to the stripped down and unpolished vocals. “Am I Missing” is especially improved by the call-and-response portion of the track, with Carrabba’s new, rougher singing complimenting his well known lyrics. It’s not a forced change, but the songs sound almost updated by not being sung in the original, higher pitch.

What the new versions also benefit greatly from is minimal instrumentation, which here is usually just two acoustic guitars. The 2003 release was recorded with a full backing band for the entirety of the record (odd for Dashboard at the time), and made the original a fit faster and louder. This Now Is Then update is stripped down, arranged with thought and experience, and mainly works in the advantage of the material. Again, “Carry This Picture” stands out in this way, but so does “Bend and Not Break,” which surprisingly works well acoustically.

The new arrangements don’t all hit, however, with “As Lovers Go,” and “Carve Your Heart out Yourself” especially falling a bit flat. Sometimes it becomes clear that these songs were written when Carrabba was hitting all his high notes, and like in the case of “So Beautiful,” the songs can lose some of their hooks. These tracks still shouldn’t be skipped, but they may not be loved as much as, say, the updated “Rapid Hope Loss.”

Mainly, this Now Is Then Is Now version is pretty great. Carrabba isn’t the same musician he was when the original A Mark, A Mission was released in 2003. His voice has logged a few miles, and this record isn’t afraid to sound a little different, much to his credit. It’s a must-listen for old fans, and different enough for new listeners to find something interesting. This isn’t some phoned-in repackaging, and therefore makes the Now Is Then Is Now project more than worth a listen.