Somewhat miraculously, Dispatch has been in our lives for roughly 25 years. Yes, 25 years. It both doesn’t seem as if it’s been that long and also definitely seems like it has been that long. Where you fall in that divide most likely has something to do with your age. For the 35 and older crowd, you got hip to Dispatch when you were in high school or college, likely getting turned onto them via word of mouth or courtesy of Napster. For the youths that are into Dispatch, your relationship began during this decade, a decade in which Dispatch 2.0 has been storming the countryside, now as a duo as opposed to a trio.
Either way, Dispatch has been part of our lives for a while, and based on the headwinds at their backs, it doesn’t seem as if Chadwick Stokes and Brad Corrigan are going anywhere anytime soon. On Friday, they released Break Our Fall, their eighth studio album and first since 2018’s Location 13. Dispatch has been dropping bread crumbs and musical morsels from the album since late last year in addition to doing what so many other acts did throughout the pandemic-stricken months, playing virtual shows. Unlike so many acts though, they’ve yet to announce any in-person shows. I’d imagine it’s only a matter of time there.
Dispatch 2.0 took shape in late 2010 when the band cryptically announced a slate of reunion shows. The band had been shelved since 2004, with a brief exception happening in 2007 and initially, it felt as if the 2011 shows might also be a brief respite from their self-imposed dormancy. But no, they kept on going, releasing albums of new material and continuing to tour, adding backing musicians to help flush out their evolving sound, one that was now directed by Stokes, a change from the band’s initial run in which each member had an equal say in their musical direction. It turns out having multiple captains sounds good in theory but in practice, it can lead to a band lacking a clear path forward. Since Stokes took the reins, the band has sounded sharper and more focused than ever, producing a sound that at once sounds related to their earlier work and also more refined, matured, and worldly. There’s less clutter and clearer substance, a welcome sight and sound for people like myself who had grown frustrated with this schizophrenic nature of the band.
With the band celebrating 25 years together (sort of because of the hiatus in the mid-2000s) and releasing a new album, I thought I’d dive into their band’s catalog, emerging with what I felt were their 25 best tunes.
Optional musical accompaniment can be found here.
25. “Prisoner’s Visitor” (2018)
Stokes has rarely met a cause he wasn’t into championing and then incorporating that cause into a song where he manages to tackle said cause via a catchy melody. He has the unique ability to get a line like “what a lovely day for the prisoner” stuck in your head as if it were an effin’ Shawn Mendes song. Beyond the subject matter, the subtle horns in “Prisoner’s Visitor” are a mighty nice touch.
24. “Mission” (1997)
Part of the appeal of Dispatch back in the day was that their music was just easy to listen to. It fit a variety of moods and situations and didn’t require a degree in music or advanced study to appreciate. They excelled at hang-out music and “Mission,” off of their breakthrough album Bang Bang is a perfect example of that.
23. “May We All” (2021)
Dispatch always had a few rockers in their toolbox but like many of their earlier tunes, there was a bit of a scatterbrain quality to them. Rarely did they simply rock from start to finish. That’s been one of the fun developments to happen to the band in this second era. They can bust out a tune like “May We All” that cooks and hums along from the jump all the way to closing time and in a refreshing twist, it never veers off into another genre or style along the way.
22. “Bullet Holes” (1999)
For as focused as a song like “May We All” is, there is a song like “Bullet Holes.” Coming off of 1999’s Four-Day Trials, “Bullet Holes” is just all over the damn place. Things get going with a traveling-down-the-road country vibe before heading south for a reggae-inspired chorus. Then about halfway through you get that early Dispatch rock sound that eventually dissolves into something of a blues riff. And somehow it works as so many early Dispatch tunes did. The song defies logic but you can’t deny it’s catchy as hell.
21. “Railway” (1997)
I’m telling you, early Dispatch was top-notch level hang-out music and if you really need me to provide a key example of this being the case, well then I present “Railway.” Listen closely and you can hear a group of buddies singing along as they drink Miller Light and pass a joint around.
20. “Curse + Crush” (2017)
America, Location 12 was the album where Stokes officially became the “captain” of Dispatch, a move he asked for prior to the recording of the album. As the captain, Stokes came armed with nearly 30 songs he had written while hiding out in a cottage during the previous winter. The result, as has been previously mentioned here and probably will be mentioned again, was the band sounding more focused and polished than ever before. “Curse + Crush” is a beautiful song that neither builds nor repeats. It hits a speed and sticks with it, letting Stokes’ vocals shoulder most of the load.
19. “Cover This” (1999)
“Cover This,” despite being released back in 1999, offers up an interesting glimpse into what a Stokes-led Dispatch could sound like. The song just has a different vibe than other songs written during that era. Yet because it was written at the height of Dispatch 1.0, it still smells like that era, which is fine. It just hints at a level of maturity that other songs from that period didn’t necessarily have. It also uses the band’s ability to harmonize exceptionally well, keeping the rogue hoots and hollers largely in check. I’m looking at you, Corrigan.
18. “Daft Alchemist” (2018)
I’m sorry, I just love the guitar part and vocals in the verse. It sounds old and folksy but pushed through some kind of bizarre, tweaked-out, acid grinder. The rest of the song is good but it’s the verse that puts it over the top for me.
17. “Two Coins” (1997)
Hi. Quick show of hands. Who here put “Two Coins” on a mixtape and/or mix CD for a special lady or fella at some point back in the day?
You’re damn right.
16. “Skin the Rabbit” (2017)
Dispatch 1.0 could rock at times but they couldn’t rock like Stokes’ solo project State Radio could rock. If it weren’t for the reemergence of Dispatch and the subsequent shutting down of State Radio, you could easily picture a tune like “Skin the Rabbit” being played by Stokes’ politically charged rock power trio. As a fan of State Radio, it’s nice that Stokes has managed to bring part of them with them as he embarks on this second tour of duty with Dispatch.
15. “Painted Yellow Lines” (2017)
Dispatch cop something of a subdued indie-rock vibe on this tune from America, Location 12. “Painted Yellow Lines” is a Dispatch 2.0 song that wouldn’t have worked as a Dispatch 1.0 because it showcases a level of restraint that wasn’t always there early on for the boys. Corrigan’s drums are controlled and solid and the harmonies are all rowing in the same direction. A song like “Painted Yellow Lines” bodes well for people hoping the band sticks around for a few more years because you could see them writing more like it the older they get.
14. “Time Served” (2000)
Dispatch’s fourth album, Who Are We Living For? is easily the most interesting album of theirs from their initial run. Whereas the albums that came before it were largely acoustic and happy-go-lucky, Who Are We Living For? had some layers to it, as well as more electric guitar, both welcome additions. And if we were to put on our detective hat, tracing some of the origins of State Radio, you can definitely find some within this album and a song like “Time Served.”
13. “Bats in the Belfrey” (1997)
Solid pregaming tune right here. It’s definitely in the top 10 of songs to listen to when getting ready to go out with your buddies in the late 90s or early 2000s.
12. “Get Ready Boy” (2012)
When getting together to record Circles Around the Sun in 2012, their first new studio album in 12 years, Stokes acknowledged some of the challenges the band faced, specifically one as a democratic as theirs, saying “it’s always challenging to put an album together with three different songwriters. But being 12 years older and taking all that time away helped as we had a better appreciation for each other.” For the most part, songwriting credits are pretty well split up on the album, but the strongest songs, like “Get Ready Boy” come from Stokes.
11. “The General” (1997)
Ah yes, “The General.” For a lot of Dispatch fans out there, especially ones that got into them back in the day, “The General” was the first song of theirs that they heard. Whether it was via Napster or some other way, “The General” made the rounds. As with so many Stokes’ songs, there’s serious subject matter coupled with catchy melodies that are impossible to not sing along to. The man is a magician in that sense.
10. “Carry You” (2000)
Okay, like with “Two Coins,” let’s get a show of hands for how many of you put “Carry You” on a mixtape or mix CD for someone special?
Yup. That checks out.
9. “Circles Around the Sun” (2012)
Another Stokes tune from Circles Around the Sun. The album’s title track is the kind of uptempo rollicker that all but demands to be played loud. It has a wonderfully reckless energy to it and in 2012, was a warning shot of sorts for people who thought that Dispatch had lost a step after nearly a decade apart.
8. “Elias” (1996)
In 1994, Stokes spent some time in Zimbabwe where he befriended a local family, with Elias being the family’s father. Inspired by their time together, Stokes wrote “Elias,” with the first verse of the song sung in Shona, a language spoken in Zimbabwe.
“The first part deals with friendship and means that when you’re feeling bereft of hope, don’t be afraid to lean on your friends to get you through. The second part is a typical greeting in Zimbabwe. “Coz e wah he” means “Are you strong?” The reply to this is, “I am strong if you are strong.” And then the greater replies with, “I am strong.””
Early on, Dispatch made it clear that there was more to them than just three dudes playing chill tunes that sound great in a dorm room with “Elias” helping to get this point across. Yet with that being said, “Elias” was a blast to try and sing along to after a few beers.
7. “Open Up” (2000)
One of the last pieces I did for BroBible was a ranking of the best opening tracks of all time. “Open Up” didn’t make the cut for two important reasons. The first is that I kept the list to the best 50 songs. If I had expanded things some, it would have been in there. The second reason is that unfortunately “Open Up” isn’t the first song on Who Are We Live For?, which is a damn shame. It’s a great song to kick off an album, especially one like Who Are We Living For? that featured the band taking their sound in different directions. The drums that bust in from the jump demand your attention in a way that makes you stand up and take notice. Exactly what you want from an opening track. No offense to “Everybody Clap,” the song that did kick off the album, but you ain’t it, kid.
6. “Midnight Lorry” (2017)
I can’t remember what song I heard first and if it was “Midnight Lorry” or “Only the Wild Ones.” But in the end, it doesn’t really matter because both songs played a hand in helping me become aware of Dispatch 2.0. With
“Midnight Lorry,” I love the stomp in the groove, how it essentially reaches out from the speakers and bobs your head for you. And I love singing the chorus and I love wondering what the hell a Midnight Lorry is. I’ve listened to this song at least 341 times since that first time and I think I could hit 500 by year’s end.
5. “Bang Bang” (1997)
Well, if you didn’t hear “The General” first then you heard “Bang Bang” first. “Bang Bang” is a delightfully simple, easy-going tune. It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon tune and you can feel the grass under your feet and the cool breeze weaving around your head. In the absence of concrete evidence, I can safe with quite a bit of confidence that “Bang Bang” is the song that made me realize that of the two bands dominating Napster at the time, Dispatch and not O.A.R. was the horse to get behind.
4. “Here We Go” (1997)
“Here We Go” has a hell of an “oh, shit, it’s on” opening. Having never seen Dispatch in concert, I bet this song is a doozy live, whether it was Dispatch 1.0 or Dispatch 2.0. It’s just one of those songs that gets your motor running. Many beers have been drunk to “Here We Go.” Many beers, my friends. “Here We Go” was one of those tunes that were put on repeat at the end of a long, good night when things had gone from sloppy to chill and people were holding on to the last bit of revelry before calling it. Again, Dispatch: purveyors of quality hang-out music.
3. “Letter to Lady J” (2018)
Don’t be fooled by the sunny melody and rollicking & frolicking music because once again, Stokes is hiding intense political commentary behind pop-rock goodness. The “Lady J” in question is the U.S. justice system, one that has been under much-deserved scrutiny over the past few years. At the time of the song’s release, the band said that the song was dedicated to “Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott and all of the other innocent people killed by overtly violent and negligent law enforcement.”
Stokes later added:
“It makes us wonder, how far have we really come since the days of Dr. King’s marches – when there is still racial profiling of this magnitude that results in the death of an innocent man or woman. We have to stand up, nonviolently come together and take pride in our differences, revel in our connection with each other to fight for civil rights, for love, and for justice for all.”
I will always be impressed by Stokes’ passion and his ability to package messages about the causes he supports into his music, whether it’s with Dispatch, State Radio, or on how own.
2. “Passerby” (2000)
“Passerby” has a vibe to it, a feel. The band had been no stranger to incorporating reggae into their music but this is them using those reggae feels to good use, utilizing it in a way Stokes would later do so well and so often with State Radio. There’s a dirtiness to the guitar that gives the song a grit to it and each member gets a crack at handling vocals, giving the song the feeling of coming from different perspectives which helps the message of inclusion the song is pushing.
1. “Only the Wild Ones” (2017)
I’ve never had the chance to ask them, but I would bet that “Only the Wild Ones” is the kind of song Dispatch dreamed of recording when they were in the trenches during the 90s. The tune is the perfect marriage of the chaotic nature of Dispatch 1.0 and the refined, melodic pop-rock of Dispatch 2.0. It’s a song that sticks with you, piquing your interest from the moment those first few guitar notes come strolling in.
And this idea of the wild ones, the people who drift in and out of our lives but leave a lasting impression is an idea we can all get behind because we’ve all known people like that. How could you not, especially for us a little longer in the tooth? You do some living, you’re gonna meet some of the wild ones. A song like “Only the Wild Ones” resonates with you because it’s going to have you set off down memory lane, into the shallows and hallowed halls where you first met your own wild ones. It’ll make you miss them but also look into the future, into a life that has yet to be lived where memories can still be made and good times be had.
Dispatch might be older now and you might not be hanging out as much, but Dispatch still makes sense in a way other bands never will.