Review Summary: "You've got that ostrich beak that's lowering your skill in sneak.” - Jon Mess, 2011
Ah, Downtown Battle Mountain II
. I remember my first impressions of this album-- browsing its highlights on Youtube when I was 17, and thinking “damn, this is sick
-- and then my more fleshed-out opinions of the release on my trip to San Diego this summer. I was delving into many of the modern post-hardcore acts I’d wanted to acquaint myself with for quite some time, and had binged on Happiness
for, well, the entire summer. So upon hearing this record on more than a precursory basis, I found myself thinking one thing: doesn’t this feel a bit artificial? The recycled song name, the band lineup, even the cover art-- these are all things we experienced back in 2007, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to that time period for Dance Gavin Dance. Dense albums like this require patience, though, and I’m thankful I gave it another chance, for Downtown Battle Mountain II
is the most fun these guys have ever been.
These are songs that are meant to be all over the place, but they’re as well-written as they could be. The most helpful thing I can say in terms of describing this album’s sound is that it’s a wanky-post-hardcore record that has the same structuring as The Mars Volta’s The Bedlam In Goliath
, in that it never lets up
. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that can listen to this record in one sitting, because it’s an extinguishing of energy that lasts almost 43 minutes. But there’s nothing wrong with a record best played in short bursts-- it’s cathartic, and those small moments of absorbing it can be the biggest mood-lifters.
Let’s not understate the importance of singer Jonny Craig’s presence on this record, though. I’m not going to go into its backstory, because about all of us know Craig reached the zenith of douchery with his time in Dance Gavin Dance. What’s more important to consider is how his burnt-out persona affects Downtown Battle Mountain II
, how it occasionally bleeds onto the lyric sheet and spoils Craig’s pseudo-R&B croons into something sour. The most burning example is how, when “Blue Dream” comes to a close, I can’t help but cringe. The way Jonny Craig speaks to the girl over the phone, the snarling way he asks her “what color are your ***in’
eyes?”, it kills me. Of course, there’s *kind of* a reasoning to it-- in the next track, the main chorus features the lyrics “But I’d hate to say no / when it comes to those beautiful blue eyes.” In that context, the recorded phone conversation makes sense-- it adds an infinite degree of trashiness to Downtown Battle Mountain II
, which feels a bit unwarranted on an album where lyrics don’t matter much. For heaven’s sake, Jon Mess makes an Elder Scrolls joke in “Privolously Poncheesied”: “You've got that ostrich beak that's lowering your skill in sneak.” Damn it, Mess.
I’m certainly not arguing these moments shouldn't exist. As with most albums, it’d be counterproductive for me to say the silly stuff should’ve been cut-- they have to exist in order for the rest of the album to function the way it does. I’d even go so far as to argue they enrich the experience on Downtown Battle Mountain II
, because I don’t have any desire to take these guys seriously. I don’t mind the classically bad raps in a few of the songs here, and it doesn't bother me that on this record, guitarist Will Swan developed a fetish for wah pedals. That’s because these frills are as essential to the record as they are over-the-top.
Because of all the blatant bull*** in Dance Gavin Dance’s music, especially on this record, I think I’m expected to bypass any sort of analysis into such a fantastically silly band. I’ll argue a counterpoint, though: albums without obvious meaning can be interpreted in an incredibly personal way, as opposed to art made with a concrete purpose. Even though I know that Downtown Battle Mountain II
was probably written on behalf of the jams at hand (and they’re pretty killer ones, too-- listen to “Need Money” and you’ll hear what I mean,) and even if this album was a ploy for the band to capitalize on all its long-time fans, I don’t really mind. Even though I have every reason to denounce the group for an album with such obviously stilted origins, the music here makes me happy-- there’s no truer way to sum it up. Maybe that’s the baseline of my love affair with this group, the fact that when I take my life too seriously, they’re willing to make an album that allows me to let loose.