Review Summary: showcases definite talent, but is a little inconsistent
Even with impairing member losses, Dance Gavin Dance somehow continued with its second full-length album that features all members creating a surprising collection of songs. They defiantly created the most diverse post-hard core album of the year, having elements of funk, R&B, pop, alternative, and more. It’s evident that the addition of Zachary Garren helped the changes musically. Simply check out his current project Good Health that features a sprawling medley of genres and its evident that creativity stemmed from this album. For those interested in hearing the progression of a talented guitar player it starts with Zach on this album. Zach brings smooth telecaster rhythms that allow for a lash of shredding by Will Swan. Fans of Dance Gavin Dance were well aware of Will’s guitar play prior to this record. Astoundingly, his tight hammer on play has only improved making a convincing argument for him being the best guitarists in the scene.
But this fantastic duo of guitar work comes with its share of inconsistent quality. Despite transcending multiple genres while keeping the post- hardcore roots, the album has a handful of forgettable tracks that show it was rushed. The song “Caviar” starts of as a slow break in the album but after a few measures Will’s lead guitar obnoxiously travels everywhere on the fret board. The song “Buffalo clocks in as the shortest on the album and offers no transition from the impressive first track to the band’s single: “Me and Zoloft Get Along Just Fine”. It’s uninteresting and downright forgettable. The laziest effort has to be “Burning Down the Nicotine Armoire pt. 2 which is the same song instrumentally as “Your Last Lullaby” from Will Swan and Matt Mingus’s former band Farewell Unknown.
With such a major lead vocal change it’s hard to imagine a band not compensating for losses in talent, but with only their second full album the band shines again vocally. Front man Kurt Travis kills on this record. Bringing fluctuating and expansive clean melodies, he provides a perfect contrast to Jon Mess’s angry shout. His best song on the album is Hot Water on Wool, which threads and weaves through multiple rock elements to make the most epic song on the record sound almost progressive. Kurt travels from a cool and calm introduction to a singing at the top of his lungs at the finish. He can even bring an R&B style on the song “Uneasy Hearts Weigh the Most” accompanied by Nic Newsham of Gatsby’s American Dream (if you like the novel check out the band). This song features so many elements of R&B that the band simply referred to it as “The R&B Song” during preproduction. Shift of genre also takes place on the pop- influenced “Skyhook” and appears multiple times throughout the album, making Kurt’s vocal range even more impressive. Kurt’s vocal diversity is sure to leave listeners awed by such an unknown vocalist. With this, one listen through is all it takes to become attached to Kurt’s sexually appealing pipes.
But despite such a stellar effort by their new front man, the band significantly pushed their other front man: Jon Mess. While Mess’s lyrics are interesting and at times creative, they dabble in being unnecessary, unproductive, and even impossible to decode. Some songs are really ruined on the record by Jon’s scattered f-bombs, which leave us wondering if he has anything else in his vocabulary. This does not mean that his emotion should be discounted. There are simply more creative ways for Mess to drive home what he’s trying to say. Despite this, his lyrics improved dramatically from an almost scrambled jargon about whores and dinosaurs to know hating his day job. Mess had shown to be an interesting up and down writer on the past effort but fills up big holes that were evident on past efforts. He delves deep into personal problems like depression, referring to the mood disorder in offhand manners that take a few listens to grasp. He has outrages against the music industry on the track “Buffalo” and “The Robot With Human Hair pt.3” contrasting music to a 9-5 day job. Overwhelmingly his best work appears throughout the album with constant backlashes at society. The lacking morals in our culture take a definite theme in Mess’s galactic poetry with “People You Know” being his most profound work. This track caps of the album brilliant and convincingly, encompassing the whole bands angst to genre defining and lyrically accepting music.
The album cleverly dabbles in areas of brilliance but also makes crippling mistakes that display the band's youth. The Death Star album remains an underachieved second LP effort by a band with talent to make masterpieces. Shifting members has undoubtedly been the bands crippling weakness. This album had very talented group of members that could have lead to something great, but it seems like Dance Gavin Dance starts over with every album they make. These creative changes make argument for the band being so good. On Down Town Battle Mountain the band captured one sound perfectly and dazzled listeners. But on the Death Star the band proves good at many things but not amazing at anything specific. With that being said, this album as well as any of the member’s work remains an integral piece of any post-hardcore library.