Review Summary: Dance Gavin Dance loses a singer, and gains so much more in the process. This is really a step up from previous efforts.
To me, Dance Gavin Dance has always been a band that was musically decent (but not amazing), and vocally wonderful. Now some people may find Johnny Craig's rather high pitched voice a little off putting, but you can't deny that there has always been this ever present soulfulness to his voice. To me, Johnny Craig was what put Dance Gavin Dance above average. So now that Johnny has flown the proverbial coop (due to "extreme tensions" according to an interview), could Dance Gavin Dance continue without their trademark vocalist? The answer to that question, surprisingly enough, is yes.
Craig's replacement, Kurt Travis, has a voice that is every bit as high as Craig's, but sadly, it does lack a little bit of that soulful quality that Craig possessed. That being said, Travis's voice is equally as impressive, soaring over the music with very impressive range and versatility, though sometimes it can seem like he is imitating Craig. They lyrics are a bit more clear than previously, though the themes they present are still somewhat abstract, and sometimes it seems as though Travis and Mess have written lyrics separately in some parts. Some will find this to be negative, others will like it, its really just a matter of preference.
So what did the band do to make up for the loss of Johnny Craig you ask? Well the instrumental section got a heck of a lot tighter and upped their game quite a bit. The guitar parts aren't necessarily lightning fast, nor are they highly technical at all times, but they have developed an almost seamless way of playing off of each other, as demonstrated in The Robot With Human Hair Pt. 3. The guitar lines in the song are harmonized a good 75% (ish) of the song, and when they aren't harmonizing, one of the guitars always seems to come up with just the right chords to compliment the lead.
The rhythm section is very tasteful, and while the drums and bass don't usually stand out against the onslaught of guitar and vocal work, if you pay attention there is some interesting stuff going on. The drumming displays a hip-hop like flair in its rhythmic tendencies, and there are a fair share of technical fills on display. The bass can sometimes become a little drowned out, but is infinitely more present than on most modern recordings, and usually provides just the right amount of groove that is called for. Again, The Robot With Human Hair Pt. 3 is a great example of this.
Of all the songs on display here, there are no songs that really stick out as bad or even sub-par, there are just a few songs that fail to really jump out and grab the listener's attention. One of the weakest songs on offer here is probably Caviar. Now don't get me wrong, Caviar is not a bad song, it just doesn't seem up to par with the rest of the material. Sure the song is different, displaying very attention grabbing harmonies (being that they are extremely non-harmonic) and a guest appearance by Chino Moreno. Maybe its just the fact that I personally am not a fan of Chino, but I really feel like his vocal contributions bring a perfectly fine song down quite a bit. The first part of the song is really fantastic, with the previously mentioned atonal harmonies and slowed down feel, but the song really starts dragging in the middle and doesn't do a whole lot to really pick up towards the end until its almost to late. Two other songs feature guest vocals, (Rock Solid features Matt Geise of Lower Deffinition, and Uneasy Hearts Weigh The Most features Nic Newsham of Gatsby's American Dream), and while the songs are just as good as the rest of the material here, the guest vocals just don't feel like they fit.
Thankfully, the highlights far outweigh the lows, and songs like the previously mentioned Caviar, are few and far between. The album's opener really kicks things off, sort of lulling you into a false sense of security with clean guitars and a soft melody, before the screams come in and the song really just blasts out of the speakers. The musical improvement is immediately noticeable as the guitars weave in and out in an almost dueling manner, and the drums smash away in a frenzy. The song is constantly upbeat and heavy at points, and its always nice to hear heaviness without breakdowns. There is no real formula that the songs follow, as some songs will have choruses and verses, others will have more abstract structure, and a few have pseudo-breakdowns or instrumental interludes, which makes for a very nice and varied listen. In short, the album never really gets repetitive or falls into a rut.
One thing Dance Gavin Dance has always excelled at is making music that is both highly melodic and intense, and there is no shortage of that here. The Robot With Human Hair Pt. 3 is very melodic and almost, dare I say, danceable to a certain degree, but it still maintains a high degree of intensity, utilizing the raspy screams to counterbalance the almost overwhelming sense of melody. Burning Down The Nicotine Armoire Pt. 2 also does a very good job at keeping the melody and intensity balanced. The only slight downside to the song is the line "I'm cutting myself with my own moroals, I never meant to write about you, the one contact that I loved so much"
, but the rest of the song really makes up for it, as the band really pulls together and plays like a cohesive unit. The song takes a heavy turn after a nice little false stop in the middle, before the screaming comes in and basically slaps you in the face. One of the songs that is just plain intense would be People You Know. The song is screamed the whole way through and the lyrics are pretty intensely angry. The song closes with Mess screaming by himself for a good ten seconds, which really makes for a powerful closing to the song.
All things considered, it seems as though the loss of Johnny Craig, (along with the "extreme tensions"), seems to have helped to make the band work a lot better as a unit and the songwriting has greatly improved because of it. Kurt Travis is a very fitting replacement for Craig, possessing all the versatility and range that Craig did, though lacking a little bit of the dramatic flair.
More or less all of them, the songs I felt were lacking were the ones with guest vocals. Dance Gavin Dance just doesn't need guest vocals in my opinion, and it kind of detracts from the feel of the songs.
-Kurt is a wonderful replacement vocalist
-The songwriting and musicianship is very good
-The album never really gets boring or repetitive
-Though not mentioned in the review there is a highly interesting bonus track after the closing of People You Know, featuring hip hop beats, ambient elements, vocals reminiscent of Kanye West's Through The Wire (high vocal samples in the chorus) and lower pitched vocals from Kurt. Though its not really a proper song, you should still give it a listen.
-Guest vocals bring down the songs just a bit (that's just my opinion though, your experience may differ)