Review Summary: Dance Gavin Dance now comes with 25% more zazz.
If somebody would have approached me in the winter of 2007, after I had learned of Johnny Craig's departure from Dance Gavin Dance, and asked me if I thought DGD would be capable of producing a passable album without the aid of their trademark frontman, my answer would have been a resounding "Nay!". Sure, a few of the instrumental aspects of the band were slightly better than those of their contemporaries, but Craig's warbling vocals were really the only thing that saved Downtown Battle Mountain from becoming a samey, boring, snoozefest of an album. However, seemingly against all odds, the band really pulled together and released not only a passable album, but one that blew their debut out of the water in almost every department. The vocals of Kurt Travis were almost comparable to those of Craig, the instrumental work and songwriting had undergone some major renovations, and the band as a whole just sounded more focused than ever before. As surprising as the self titled was, with the subsequent announcement that the band would yet again be losing more members (screamer Jonathan Mess and bassist Eric Lodge to be specific), the future of the band was once again cast under a dark shadow.
Not only was the band going into their third full length sans another two members, but the band was heading into the studio a mere six months
after the release of their self titled sophomore release, an act that made duplicating the quality of the self titled seem like a nearly insurmountable task, and surpassing it completely out of the realm of possibility. However, once again, the band has beaten the odds and put together an album that nearly puts it's predecessor to shame. The often cringe-worthy lyrical content of the self titled is (almost) nowhere to be found here, the instrumental aspects have yet again made some pretty big strides in both technical proficiency and cohesiveness, and it seems as though Kurt Travis finally feels completely at home with DGD, as his vocal performances feel quite a bit more confident than on the self titled, where there were times that it seemed he was simply doing his best to imitate Craig.
Quite simply, Happiness is Dance Gavin Dance performing at their highest caliber yet. Firstly, the fairly catchy choruses present on previous releases have been revamped into almost overwhelmingly infectious passages. The track Don't Tell Dave is a shining example of this, as the entire song is laden with danceable beats, infectious vocal melodies, and memorable one liners. In fact, it's tracks like Don't Tell Dave that really introduce a previously unexplored side of Dance Gavin Dance. A lot of the tracks on offer here carry with them a gleeful, carefree aesthetic, and the album is all the more infectious because of it. However, the album is much more than a simple, catchy, and carefree romp through modern post-hardcore. Songs like Tree Village and NASA display some highly technical fretwork from guitarists Will Swan and Zac Garren, not to mention some surprisingly frantic drumming from Matt Mingus. Don't get the wrong idea though; Tree Village and NASA aren't the only instrumentally impressive songs on the album. There are impressive instrumental performances scattered throughout the entire album, but they come in different forms than that of self indulgent noodling. Guitar effects are used in an impressively effective manner (see the odd pitch-shifted/envelope-filtered guitar line in the intro to Tree Villiage), the guitar interplay now includes the creation of interesting textures rather than focusing on harmonized noodly bits, and the rhythm section seems more focused on creating interesting beats than going all out with crazy drum fills (though there are a plethora to be found).
As previously mentioned, the lyrical content here is nowhere near as cringe-worthy as some of the content found on the self titled (see People You Know if you don't know what I'm referring to), but there are still a few moments that bring to mind the phrase "swing and a miss". Lines such as "Hey you! Where ya from? Nevermind just leave me alone"
, and the bulk of the awkwardly pseudo-sexist subtext in Strawberry Swisher Pt. 1 are a few lyrical missteps that almost threaten to derail the momentum of the album, but thankfully they don't end up doing so, due to the uncanny ability of Kurt Travis to deliver somewhat nonsensical lines in a way that's fairly convincing. Another thing that manages to cover up a few shoddily put together lines is the replacement of Jonathan Mess's wretching, overly phlegmy delivery with guitarist Will Swan's rather impressive screaming. Where Mess's vocal performances could often be grating, distracting, and fairly thin, Swan's screams are rather full, throaty, and carry with them an almost commanding tone. The screams do have a little more of a "core"ish quality to them, yet they seem to fit more than Mess's vocals more often than not.
After the loss of two more members, and a time period of a six months in which to write and record, Happiness should have been nothing more than a horribly rushed and incoherent mess of an album. Yet somehow, Dance Gavin Dance has once again beaten the odds and created a rather impressive album. Who knows, maybe it's the seemingly constant loss of members that keeps the band constantly needing to prove themselves that has kept them from producing something disappointing. Oddly enough, the bassist present on Happiness, Jason Ellis, has already split from the band, so maybe their next album will be truly