Review Summary: This time I know myself, it's been a long time coming, been a long time coming.
The current position that Dance Gavin Dance occupies in the musical landscape was perhaps inevitable, and there have been hints of its coming in every facet of their identity leading up to this point. Despite the band’s revolving-door lineup which has led to five different members offering up some form of lead vocals at various points, the band’s core has remained remarkably consistent in their sonic identity. Regardless of the various sonic detours the band has taken over the years, from the raw passion of Downtown Battle Mountain
, to the funky grooves of Happiness
, to the soaring pop aesthetic of their more recent Acceptance Speech
and Instant Gratification
- their unwavering commitment has always been to a particularly quirky
brand of post-hardcore, teetering on the verge of wider accessibility and the genre’s more aggressive roots. This unique position on the precipice foreshadowed their current status: cult band.
In this context, Mothership
reads as both the ultimate love letter to the band’s devoted fanbase, and an opportunity for growing the fold. Diehards who create discussion groups and meme pages, and obsessively follow every signing to guitarist Will Swan’s Blue Swan Records, will be thrilled by the realization that this is simultaneously the band’s most diverse album since Happiness
, its most passionate release of emotion since the original Downtown Battle Mountain
, and a collection of some of the most visceral moments in its entire discography. However, if this makes it seem like the band no longer cares if you are a fan or not, and are simply pandering at this point to their pre-existing fanbase, the reality of the situation is more complicated. It is true that Dance Gavin Dance has been a consistently polarizing, love-them-or-hate-them act… and on Mothership
the band has indeed embraced this status, no longer caring one iota about those who write them off as cheesy or disjointed. But rather than acting as a constraint, this freedom instead lets the band hone in on their strengths, and enhance the quirky eclecticism that has been central to their appeal since day one.
This allows Mothership
to be simultaneously catchier, heavier, more eclectic, more passionate, and more technical than either of the band’s two preceding albums with the same lineup. The album’s ability to achieve many of these seemingly contradictory goals at the same time is not a result of unclear objectives, but rather of a tighter focus that comes from a lineup that has learned each other’s strengths, and plays to them masterfully. Central to this is the performance of the undisputed MVP of the record, singer Tilian Pearson. While Tilian was always a good fit for the band, his vocals throughout Mothership
demonstrate a true growth into the role of lead vocalist for Dance Gavin Dance that many never thought he would achieve. His voice glides and grooves over the delectably funky passages in “Young Robot” and “Here Comes the Winner”, goes for hard-hitting passion on the Tides of Man-channeling “Inspire the Liars”, and soars with a level of pop accessibility unseen in the band’s discography - particularly on the infectious hook of “Betrayed by the Game”. Through it all, Tilian is able to perfectly fit whatever the instrumentation calls for in the moment and then some, and does so while adopting a rawer, more passionate delivery reminiscent of his Tides of Man days, one that allows him to soar to high notes while reminding listeners of ex-vocalist Jonny Craig’s signature “straining”. It is in this way that Tilian’s vocals exemplify Mothership
as a whole… both catchier and more passionate than what the band has produced before.
And while it is true that there is no radical reinvention for the band on this, their seventh studio album, the band manages to beat the odds and prevent the feeling of stagnation, simply by nailing down their own stylistic scope better than at any point before. Sonic flourishes such as the flute intro to “Young Robot”, the bouncy noodling of “Flossie Dickey Bounce”, and the variety of effects applied to Tilian’s voice throughout, give the feeling that the band is stepping out of their comfort zone enough to push themselves, while refining the accessible elements of their sound, providing the biggest opportunity since Happiness
for the band to expand their audience. And on the other end of the spectrum, the pummeling guitars that back up Jon Mess’ screams on “Petting Zoo Justice” and “Philosopher King” provide some of the most intense passages the band has written to date - and when the latter track expands into a soaring passage of furious drumming and powerful riffage, accompanied by one of Tilian’s finest choruses, the effect can be described as little else but euphoric. In many ways, the contrasts exemplified on “Philosopher King” are those that elevate the album above the rest of the DGD canon, and the flawless execution of such a broad sonic spectrum demonstrates both the band’s versatility, and its refined sense of song construction. These songs shine with technical mastery, yet also with purpose, and this emotional backbone is what gives Mothership
its appeal on repeat listens, when the initial shine of technical impressiveness is no longer enough. Embrace the cult, because DGD is here to stay.