Review Summary: Dance Gavin Dance reflects back on its history and builds towards a more stable, established future.
Dance Gavin Dance is thought of, by some, as a band that is continuing to try to find perfect balance with the parts that it has to work with. This is mainly due to their struggles to keep a consistent lineup through multiple projects. However, after the release of their most recent effort, Instant Gratification, that was released to generally mixed-to-positive critique, they seem to have found their rhythm as a band going forward into future LP’s and releases. Tree City Sessions seems to act as a bridge between this new generation of DGD, fronted by countertenor vocalist Tillian Pearson, and the older, grassroots eras of the band, with soulful and strong singing from Jonny Craig and more chaotic, raw sounds from Kurt Travis, and I feel that it succeeds in doing so. With a live studio session of the band’s classics, I see this as their chance to solidify this current rendition of the group as one that is “here to stay”.
First, I want to comment that the production on this album is excellent. Every instrument is represented well and highlighted, another struggle the band has faced in the past (although mostly on earlier works). Lead guitarist Will Swann can be heard in every song, with funky and spastic riffs, as well as “jammier”, slower verses. There are things like groovy twang in the background of the chorus of “We Own the Night” that rounds out the song, to a strong presence of bass guitar that really help accentuate Swan’s jazz and funk style, especially present on the song “Carl Barker". The atmosphere is a run-of-the-mills studio album, with samples here and there to aid in the overall scope of the sound, but it is something that the band has steered away from in the past.
Tillian’s vocals are nearly untouched on this record, which is something that I think was needed for people to see his fit with the band. There is criticism that his two main LP’s with Dance Gavin Dance, Acceptance Speech and Instant Gratification, feature his vocals in an overproduced, layered cake, sounding almost artificial. This album features almost pristine, uncut singing from him, and he hits the mark on generally every song. There are times where he is noticeably struggling to match the technical talent of Craig and the edge of Travis on the original tracks. But when he hits the mark, he impresses. Songs like “Alex English” and “Tree Village” showcase and highlight Tilian’s true range and live talent, which I would consider something that was hard to really calculate in their mastered work. Vocals by screamer Jon Mess are in his typical form, raw and distinct. If you have ever heard a song with him in it, you know what you’re going to get, and for a live album, this is as good as it gets with him. We even get to have a taste of Will Swan’s screaming on "Tree Village", a look back at when he was the unclean vocalist during the Happiness era.
The choice of songs on this album are varied and span across all of their full-lengths, with nods to their ill-fated reunion with Jonny Craig like “Spooks” and “Thug City”, to fan-favorites “And I Told Them I Invented Times New Roman” and “Carl Barker”. Overall, there is no real imbalance when it comes to distribution across the band’s discography, which should appeal to their fans very well. I think this band has the potential to at least show people that they have talent once you dig deeper into their style, once you look past their nonsensical and silly lyrics. Fans of the band already will probably enjoy this album a lot, as it pays credit to the entire history of the band (minus their first EP). Those who do not like this band will probably feel the same about this, however I think that the album could turn heads.
Now let’s see Tillian set the record for Most-Consecutive-LP’s with the band.