Review Summary: Further proof that a return to form is harder than it looks.
Everyone has artists which they never want to change: be them victims of nostalgia-laden comfort or pillars of figurative talent rising far and beyond that of their genre-mates, they exist. Dance Gavin Dance are one of mine. Ever since my early days on the “scene” or whatever you wish to call it, Dance Gavin Dance offered a unique approach to post-hardcore which was rarely imitated and even more infrequently actually lived up to. Surely, as times changed, so did Dance Gavin Dance’s sound, slowly but surely, and despite many changes that made Happiness
a fantastic album, it still rang hollow for me. The drums were less aggressive, the vocals less crooning, the guitar...well, no, the guitar was still fine. But something was missing
Cut to two years and a couple line-up changes later: Downtown Battle Mountain II
is announced and I’m as happy as a pig in ***. Could this be the album which restore Dance Gavin Dance to the level which I had previously held them at so highly? Would our passionate flame be reunited and, with it, hope for future endeavors into the artsy, mathy, loopy post-hardcore which drew them to me in the first place?
Well. Sort of.
Downtown Battle Mountain II
is a great album, filled with several high points that would not be out-of-place in the first Downtown Battle Mountain
. What is also has are startling lows, which, among other post-hardcore acts would be accepted, or even expected, but for this Californian outfit, almost taboo. We might as well get it out on the table right now, a majority of these flaws (however slight they may seem) seem to be related to Jon Mess’ vocal duty. Furthermore, while on their own, they’re forgivable at worst, they add up to a much bigger crime.
While it doesn’t make or break the album, most songs on DBM II follow more-or-less the same pattern, or are at least made up of roughly the same parts. Kick it off with an intense, aggressive charge on all fronts–all the drums pounding, all the guitars squealing, the bass thumping along at a breakneck pace, iced with Jon Mess’ primal war-chanting. Then, as quickly as it started, it fades–or transforms, rather–into a more melodic downbeat, and Johnny Craig enters the picture, and oh, how we missed
Johnny Craig. Craig says his piece (usually with lyrics that make little sense) and disappears, sometimes for the rest of the song, sometimes to return momentarily, but either way, he is spread few and far between Jon Mess’ raspy rants. The song continues in this sort of pattern until it ultimately reaches equilibrium and dies off, launching into the next song. On their own, each of the songs stand out and are special in their own way (not dissimilar to what my mom told me when I was growing up), however, lump them together and it gets hard to tell them apart from each other and, like it or not, you notice more than usual that Will Swan might have been lacking in creativity when he wrote a majority of the riffs for the album.
Speaking of Will Swan, what exactly is he up to–and how about members of the band that don’t sing
, you might ask. Well, this is where the album really shines, ladies and gentlemen. For, ultimately, the vocals as far as both Craig and Mess are concerned fall short, the instruments shine. The drums, punchy, raw and visceral are almost never boring, and walk the narrow line between over-busy and boring perfectly. The bass follows suit, shining when it needs to, and playing a support role when it should, popping out every now-and-again to say “whats up?!” but then fading back into the background seamlessly. The guitars, while they do seem repetitive are incredible nonetheless. Tracks like Priviously Poncheesied and Purple Reign showcase them perfectly, reminding us that Will Swan is certainly no one-trick pony, and that he still has a few tricks up his sleeve.
So while it might not have been the triumphant return to form that many Dance Gavin Dance fans (including myself) were looking for, it’s still a solid, engaging, catchy and technically impressive post-hardcore release, even if it’s hard and a little overbearing to get through in one listen, and even if you find yourself only returning to the same two or three tracks to get your fix.