Review Summary: Make this motherfucker golden.
There’s hardly any denying it, Dance Gavin Dance is easily one of the most interesting bands to thrive in this scene of music. What started out as a rather clichéd, emo-leaning post-hardcore group has now blossomed into one of the most eclectic, progressive and nuanced outfits on the alternative music landscape -- merging elements of soul, funk, psychedelic rock, R&B and even fragments of hip-hop with their singing and screaming dynamics.
But of course, this band has always been synonymous for its numerous lineup instabilities, featuring members that have come, gone and returned almost ad nauseum. Their fifth outing, entitled Acceptance Speech, sees a whopping three new members joining the fold; the most notable being Tilian Pearson, former vocalist for Tides of Man, who handles the singing duties throughout. Some fans were of course a little more than displeased once news broke of his joining, with some claiming that his high-pitched vocal stylings simply wouldn’t mold well with the type of singular soundscapes Dance Gavin Dance are known to create, despite the fact that the three singles that were released prior to the release of the album were generally well received.
After my first spin with this album, I was actually a tad surprised, because the three singles -- “Jesus. H Macy”, “The Robot With Human Hair pt. 4” and “Acceptance Speech”, all of which mark the first quarter on the album -- are actually the least
memorable songs on this entire LP; despite being more than solid tracks. It’s by the time the fourth track “Carve” assaults your sense, where this album really comes out full swinging. Aside from being one of the heaviest tracks DGD has ever put out, this song really cements Tilian Pearson as a terrific addition to the band’s roster, as his soulful, angelic singing in the track’s bombastic chorus becomes as an immediate highlight.
From here on out, Dance Gavin Dance consistently bring out the best of their arsenal; stupendous guitar work, dueling vocals, catchy hooks, unorthodox song structures and a swirl of funky, jazz-fueled passages bombards the listener and, for the most part, it sounds fantastic. Songs such as “Honey Revenge” and the memorable “Strawberry Swisher Pt. 3” will easily rank as some of the most infectious and upbeat songs to date by this band and Jon Mess’ iconic screaming and off-kilter, bizarre lyrics truly get to shine here.
Yet, even amidst the constant back-and-forth screaming and singing that’s doled out exceedingly well on the album, the instrumentals still get the upper hand. Will Swan and touring guitarist-later-turned-full member Josh Benton do an excellent job of creating the hooks that underpin every song here; trading lead and rhythm guitar lines at a tantalizing rate whilst still employing a slew of harmonized solos and psychedelic-esque licks that feel distinctly DGD. Matthew Mingus also maintains his penchant for writing intricate and exhilarating drum parts that intertwine nicely with the bass work of newcomer Tim Feerick.
One thing that should be noted is that the lyrical content --while still wonderfully strange-- are actually a lot more tangible here. Tilian and Jon’s lyrics are not two separate entities and Jon has toned down his strange food metaphors and profanity considerably in comparison to past albums, which in my personal opinion is entirely a positive. Heck, if you gleam past some of the absurdity you might actually find some real meaning tucked away in these songs, which is a rarity for this band.
While the aforementioned tracks are rousing and uniformly stellar, some tracks are a slight hit-and-miss; the much anticipated “The Death of the Robot with Human Hair” is a rather inconsistent track, featuring a solid first half which then gives way to a part in where Will Swan comes blaring through the speakers singing “make this motherf****r golden” and it just sounds silly and contrived, not to mention terribly overproduced. While I’ve always loved Dance Gavin Dance’s tongue-in-cheek approach to writing songs, this part along with the “woke up in a new bugatti” rap that caps off the title track just sound unintelligible and feel like they are just there for the hell of it.
The second issue that could be attributed to this album are parts of the production. While the production handled by Matt Malpass is generally great, there are times where Tilian’s voice is turned up way too loud and it sounds like his vocals come piercing through the mix like a loud shriek -- almost to the point where he drowns out the instruments. This is unfortunate, because Tilian is an excellent live performer and his voice is in no need of the kind of smoke and mirrors present here.
Thankfully, even in light of some problems, the albums ends on an absolutely outstanding final note. "Turn Off the Lights, I'm Watching Back to the Future Part II” comes shining through as the best track on this record; featuring a guitar hook that will latch onto your mind like a slug. This song maintains an incredibly upbeat tone throughout and Tilian’s dreamlike crooning feels natural and immediate throughout the six minute length on this song.
In conclusion, Acceptance Speech is the story of a band that has finally come full circle. The songs here feel less like they have been cobbled together from a multitude of individual pieces and instead come off as complete bodies of work. While not every song here is a winner and while the production could have certainly been less excessive, this is still undoubtedly one of the most well-polished Dance Gavin Dance albums yet. Fans will no doubt keep the Jonny Craig-era versus Kurt Travis-era versus Tilian Pearson-era debate going for an untold time to come, but all the while this band will continue to maintain its niche in an ever-stagnating post-hardcore landscape.
In other words, if you appreciate Dance Gavin Dance, then accept this album you will.
Strawberry Swisher Pt. 3
Turn Off the Lights, I'm Watching Back to the Future Part II