Review Summary: Dance Gavin Dance prove that they can succeed without Jonny Craig - again.
It’s a wonder that Dance Gavin Dance is still around with the myriad of lineup changes they’ve endured. Three clean vocalists, two screamers, god knows how many guitarists besides Will Swan – you would think that all of this switching around would have a significant impact on the quality of their music, but over the relatively prolific eight years of their existence, they have stayed remarkably consistent. Their fanbase, however, has forever been divided over which of their vocalists were better: Kurt Travis (A Lot Like Birds) or Jonny Craig (ex-Emarosa). Now a third has been introduced into the discussion – ex-Tides Of Man vocalist Tillian Pearson, who lends his seductive tones to the band’s new release Acceptance Speech. His voice will likely be the determining factor in whether fans enjoy the album, but the rest of the band hasn’t been stagnant while Tillian was learning the ropes.
The diversity of the tracks is much greater than what was found on Downtown Battle Mountain II ; while that album was mostly filled with fast paced rhythms and twisting guitar leads, Acceptance Speech often places more emphasis on heaviness, groove, and buildup. The more typical tracks are present like “The Robot With Human Hair Pt. 4”, but most tracks are more adventureous - “Doom & Gloom” almost sounds like something from Tillian’s previous band before exploding into familiar DGD madness in the chorus; “Demo Team” opens with a parody of overly produced Rise bands by noise gating the guitars out of existence, and abusing stuttered/autotuned vocals without falling into the trap of being anywhere near as bad as the things it’s making fun of; and “Death Of The Robot With Human Hair” is a Bohemian Rhapsody-style epic featuring parts with heavily processed singing from guitarist Will Swan. The fact that all of this actually works (for the most part) is a testament to how good DGD are at their craft.
The addition of Tillian has been the focus of fans, but the album is almost more centered on Jon Mess, who has improved tenfold. On previous albums, his raspy screams were very much an acquired taste, but here, they have morphed into something everyone should be able to enjoy, while still retaining his vocal personality. Lyrics are back to being coherent statements – “Robot Pt. 4” seems to be about their estranged ex-vocalist Jonny, “Honey Revenge” is about a stalker, etc. The charming unintelligible nonsense on DTBMII was fun, but for those who like their lyrics to mean something, this should be a welcome change. Tillian himself does a remarkably good job at adapting himself to the band; while he sounds more natural on tracks like “Doom & Gloom” and “Honey Revenge”, he handles himself nicely all around. He’s certainly more Kurt than Jonny, but he also establishes his own style within the band; moments like the layered ending section of the title track would not sound quite right with anyone else singing them.
The production highly emphasizes the vocals. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it’s easy to wish the technical aspects of the instruments were more audible in instances where the vocals overpower them. Everything sounds relatively clear, so this isn’t as big a problem as it could have been, but it’s still a minor disappointment.
Overall, it’s not a surprise that Acceptance Speech is great – DGD has already proved that they can succeed without Jonny Craig – but it’s certainly unexpected that everything works as well as it does for as much of the time as it does. It’s fun, varied, and peppy, and if you enjoy those things, you’d be doing yourself a service by checking it out.