Review Summary: No Macbooks, just music.
Dance Gavin Dance is a band that can be best described as the uranium of post-hardcore: they’re unstable, self-destructive, and when they go off, people take notice. In the six years since their debut, Whatever I Say Is Royal Ocean, they’ve gone through enough line-up changes, intra-band drama, and scandals to have a news feed all to themselves, but each time they seem on the verge of imploding for the umpteenth time, they beat the odds to stabilize long enough to make something exciting, fresh, and better than before. Now DGD bring back all but one of their original members from Downtown Battle Mountain to form another new isotope on Downtown Battle Mountain Part II.
“Spooks” opens to the return of the vocal duo of Jonny Craig and Jon Mess. Mess’s screams have gone through a large overhaul, showcasing a more focused (and higher pitched) blast rather his previously heavy and mostly throat evoked growl. His lyrics are somehow more impenetrable than ever and are a tribute to an exercise in pushing the borders of artistic expression(s), so thank God for that delivery. In an interview, he admits that they “serve more of an artistic flow” than to create a tangible meaning in the songs. Take this cut from “Heat Seeking Ghost of Sex” as a tease: “I muck ace a lot, I’m gonna pace the lot, Don’t be tardy for my leaky Barbie T.V. party pee in the park.”
Craig pours out his signature croons and swoons true to form from the original DTBM, but instead of just belting out every single note, Jonny shows something he’s never been known for – restraint. He displays a lower register that adds another dimension and dynamic to both his and the band’s sound. For example, on “The Robot With Human Hair Pt. 2 ½” and “Swan Soup,” Craig is able to pick his spots to positive effect, letting the song settle and rise when it wants to. Craig is also given a spotlight song in “Blue Dream,” where he is able to indulge in his soulful desires at will. However, the song sounds somewhat out of place in that it could have more easily fit into Jonny’s solo record than DTBM2, but it is a welcome valley in the 42+ minutes of sharp peaks and turns of DGD and brings the kind of striking change-up “Don’t Tell Dave” gave to Happiness.
Will Swan now finds himself without a co-pilot at the helm of DGD’s guitar duties but adeptly delivers a delightful arsenal of weapons to the fray. His experimentation goes less in the way of effects and pedals this time but falls more into the self-titled album’s technical dueling leads and chordal harmonies as seen in “Privilously Poncheezied” or the second section of “Purple Reign,” where Swan unveils an Indian influenced lead to back Mess’s barks; something not many guitarists in general are touching, let alone in the hemisphere of post-hardcore. However, he does seem to loose his creative edge at times, either repeating similar kinds of lines and overstuffing riffs into a song, such as in “Need Money,” or appearing too rushed in the 2:26 “Pounce Bounce.” Also, he still manages to squeak in a vocal cameo with his rapping on “Spooks.” Is it good or bad? It’s fun and different, something Dance Gavin Dance is all about.
Matt Mingus is just raw on this album and does not do anything truly irksome. His sound is thick and visceral, and his creativity and skill set have increased steadily with each successive release with this time being no different. He never bores and is at his best tearing up his entire kit with schizophrenic beats and fills like in the last minute of “Spooks” or the entirety of “The Robot With Human Hair Pt. 2 ½” where they just seem to turn him loose. The fact that he actually uses his entire ride cymbal instead of just crashing it adds a huge dimension to his sound as well that is often overlooked because it is just something many drummers in this genera have abandoned.
Unfortunately, there’s not much to say about Eric Lodge’s bass playing. It is not bad in the least, just a step or two down from the incredible job Jason Ellis did on Happiness. Lodge primarily plays a strong supporting role backing Swan’s guitar lines and Mingus’s frantic drumming, but he does pop in now and again with a lead line or fill, with “Swan Soup” giving him the most face time.
Overall, this album displays everything Dance Gavin Dance with the technicality of the self-titled, the funk and fun of Happiness, and the white-knuckle deliveries of Downtown Battle Mountain all coming together in harmony for the most part. Their willingness to push their own boundaries of writing is clearly shown, i.e. horns in “Need Money,” Will Swan rapping, and the whole of “Blue Dream” as well as their continued growth in their craft as musicians. Some may call this album a cheap shot to get one last gas out of this band by trying to return to their former acclaim garnered by Downtown Battle Mountain, but in the volatile and constantly evolving story of Dance Gavin Dance, none of it seems SO wrong. The band is still, and may always be, flying by the seat of its pants, and it may just be this constant air of an uncertain future that keeps them from going stale. They brought in the biggest guns they had and fired almost everything but the kitchen sink, which I’m sure Jon Mess mentions at one point or another. Ultimately, Dance Gavin Dance succeeds in, yet again, climbing up to the top of post-hardcore heap against the odds of an imminent meltdown.