Sometimes the music you find yourself loving comes from strange places.When I used to live in Sheffield, I hung around a lot with a guy called Gareth. He’s still a good friend of mine. But you wouldn’t guess we’d be friends if you met us individually.

Gareth was into US punk and skate music. He hated my "fey, limp-wristed indie." And I wasn’t too keen on his hardcore American bands either. But one day he played me a Vagrant Records sampler and two songs touched me. They were unlike the others – similar in vocal style, but in place of death metal guitars and stupidly fast drum fills there was beautiful acoustic guitars. I borrowed the CD and taped the songs.

Some months later I rediscovered the tape and – now that I had moved to London – I felt a certain nostalgia hearing it again. The two songs that I had loved those months ago were ‘Hands Down’ and ‘Screaming Infidelities’. I didn’t know whose songs they were, so I jumped on the Internet and read about an act called Dashboard Confessional from Florida. Next day I was down HMV on Oxford Street and shelled out nearly £20 for an import copy of a 10-track album. The songs really were that good.

The album was ‘The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most’, Dashboard Confessional's second album, which was released in 2001. I realised it was the first non-British record I had bought in over three years. Little did I know then that the next three records I bought would all be by this same band.

The album opens with ‘The Beautiful Dance’. I’d never felt empathy with an American singer before I heard the lines "The painful realisation that all has gone wrong / And nobody cares at all." Frontman Chris Carabba’s voice was like nothing I’d heard before. Emotion dripping from every word, every word loaded with either anger or regret or self-loathing.

‘Screaming Infidelities’, I’ve since found out, was quite a radio hit in the US. It’s a bare bones account of a note left by a runaway lover ("Reading your note over again / And theres not a word I comprehend / Except when you signed it I love you always and forever"). It almost drives me to tears hearing Carabba torture himself over where this important person is now, or rather who she’s with. The song works on different levels – it tears you apart emotionally, yet you sing along like your life depends on it. That’s the beauty of all these songs, they bring people together through Carabba’s incredible ability to make a situation specific to him relevant to every listener. You only have to see footage of the band playing to realise this – seeing 2000 kids singing every word in unison. I personally wouldn’t have ever thought "Your hair is everywhere / Screaming infidelities, and taking it’s wear" would be a great big sing-a-long but there you go.

‘The Best Deceptions’ is one of the finest moments here, following a similar theme to the previous track, yet laced with petty (though justified) anger – "So kiss me hard / ‘Cos this will be the last time that I let you." The harmony vocals are heartbreaking, and you really hear all facets of Carabba’s incredible vocal talent on this one.

There’s a few more upbeat songs on offer, the first of which is ‘The Good Fight’. Fast drums are added to the mix, but Carabba’s voice is no less affecting when shouting.  Another is ‘Again I Go Unnoticed’, a classic title for a fantastic song. ("Please tell me you’re just feeling tired / If it’s more than that I fear that I might break."). Lyrics that connect instantly, yet never lose their appeal.

The album’s ten tracks are as perfect a collection of songs as this reviewer has ever heard. I struggle to find a bad word to say about this record even now, two years on from my first incredible listen. You know a classic album when you loan it out to a friend and don’t get it back for six months – and every single day you miss it.

This is an album I am incredibly proud of owning. I always wondered where all their other fans were? Why was I the only person who knew about these incredible songs? I found out I wasn’t when, a few months later, I went to see Dashboard Confessional at the London Astoria. The place was busier than I’ve ever seen any venue, and every word Carabba sung was screamed back at him before it left his lips. To connect with people in such a way, connect with kids from another country, tells us a lot of his ability to universalify (that’s a word I just made up and I’m sending it to the dictionary people in the morning) his experiences in a touching and remarkable way.

I don’t think any amount of words anybody could write could do this album justice. It’s beyond words describing what it means to me, and everybody else who holds it close to their heart. It still breaks my heart when I hear songs like ‘The Brilliant Dance’ and ‘This Ruined Puzzle’ ("I’ve hidden a note / It’s pressed between pages that you’ve marked to find your way back / It says “Does he ever get the girl?”’). It still breaks my heart to think of not having this record. I thank my old friend Gareth from the bottom of my heart for helping me find this. I’m forever in his debt.













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