Review Summary: i don't know what i'd do if i ever lost you
For a band that has been switching members on each and every album since their debut record in 2007, Dance Gavin Dance have always been very consistent. Kris Krummet’s production, Will Swan’s furiously technical playing and Matt Mingus’ blistering drumming have been the only constants in the band’s ever revolving roster, but this has never stopped them from coming together and creating some of the most brilliantly campy, emotive and crazy post-hardcore of the last 10 years. Jonny Craig, the band’s original vocalist, made a triumphant return to his position in 2011’s Downtown Battle Mountain II, accompanied by the same roster that created the original album four years prior (minus Sean O'Sullivan). But now, with Craig’s douchebaggery leading to his second departure from the band, the band have finally strayed away from the R&B influenced material that popped up on all four of the band’s previous records.
In return, new vocalist Tilian Pearson steps in. His singing is by no means bad, but it isn't a particularly great fit for this band or this record. He churns out as many catchy hooks as Travis and displays as much passion as Craig, but he can’t match either in terms of the power of his voice, which far too often sounds forced and a little melodramatic, especially when the lyrics are taken into context. On previous albums, the at times ridiculous and ill-fitting lyrics didn't matter because the vocals were good enough to mask some of the more awkward moments. Tilian doesn't have this benefit, resulting in a lot of cringe-inducing spots (far more than previous albums) and plenty of terrible sounding vocal manipulation. The other vocal problem, as per usual, is Mess’ contribution. Although he sounds clearer and more powerful here than ever before, the point of his role on previous DGD albums was to provide a sort of filler in-between the real attraction, the soaring hooks. Here, his chemistry with the band’s other vocalist is stronger than ever, but the new production places far too much emphasis on his random hollering, making him more of a liability than any kind of assistant to Tilian’s ailing vocals.
Luckily, with Swan and Mingus remaining for the recording of this album, things are still as chaotic as they usually are in the weird, genre-bending world of DGD. The riffs are the usual mix of huge grooves and weird time signatures, with occasional electronics thrown in to make the whole thing even wackier. Sadly, bassist Eric Lodge is absent from this recording (the only other time this happened was alongside Mess on Happiness) and thus the record feels just a little lacking as his replacement Tim Feerick bravely enters the instrumental maelstrom only to be drowned out completely. A change in producer needn’t have lessened the band’s impact, but with the higher pitched vocals taking precedence over anything else, there’s far fewer moments than on the previous album where everything sounds balanced and co-ordinated. In short, this is the first DGD where things become chaotic in an unintentional way.
The little touches that made DBMII such a great album return here; Will Swan’s rapping, the next instalment (finale, even) of the ‘Robot With Human Hair’ saga and plenty of moments where Tilian does his very best to sound exactly like Craig. And sometimes, it works. Closer Turn off the Lights I’m Watching Back to the Future part II is the finest song here, displaying Pearson’s raw vocals better than any other and also boasting the most infectious hook Acceptance Speech has to offer. The fact that this song is the sequel to part I from the band’s debut really shows that they’re trying to tie up loose ends. This record may not be the one that all fans wanted, but it’s another instalment in the band’s discography that proves they put as much dedication into each and every album, and despite setbacks they always find a way to soldier on. They’ll probably never top their career defining album Happiness, an album that featured the best guitarist the band ever had in Zachary Garren and no Mess to ruin Travis’ gorgeous singing, but as a non-Craig album this is still a decent effort.