Review Summary: Crass, upbeat, energetic and flat-out weird; these are all but a few adjectives that could aptly describe the latest studio album from post-hardcore rockers Dance Gavin Dance.
Nowadays when a new Dance Gavin Dance album is released, the first question being brought up is: which vocal duo is at the helm this time around? Sacramento-based post-hardcore outfit Dance Gavin Dance has, despite all of their undeniable talent, had a hard time trying to keep one persistent line-up intact. Their debut-album Downtown Battle Mountain saw vocalists Jonny Craig, Jon Mess and guitarists Will Swan, Sean O’ Sullivan as well as bass player Eric Lodge and drummer Matthew Mingus taking a stab at the post-hardcore scene: introducing complex song-structures and unorthodox guitar work. The end result was a memorable, if flawed, album with some songs ranging from outstanding (“Lemon Meringue Tie”) to average (“Strawberry André”).
Following the album’s release, clean singer Jonny Craig was kicked out of the band and was instead replaced by Kurt Travis – who took up vocal duties alongside Jon Mess on their self-titled album, and then guitarist Will Swan on Happiness, who handled the unclean vocals in place of Jon Mess’ vacancy. Now, we’re back at square one: Jonny and Jon is back and Will Swan now operates on his own; writing two guitar parts with one them being passed over to a touring guitarist. Now in spite of all the internal drama regarding Jonny Craig’s Macbook-scam and drug-related issues, one might wonder if the band can deliver an album worthy of being placed in the pantheon of post-hardcore albums.
The answer as it turns out is yes. Downtown Battle Mountain II represents the culmination of four years worth of Dance Gavin Dance music-making wizardry as this album remains, despite being more than a year old, one of the most musically diverse, crass and experimental albums in the band’s library – incorporating elements of metal, punk, funk, soul and even hip-hop. The album kicks off with the schizophrenic song “Spooks” which starts out with a spine-tingling intro from Jonny Craig who truly shows off his true, most rawest talent on the album. The interlude is then interrupted by Jon Mess whose high-frazzled screams have come a long way since his low-range guttery growling on the first DBM album. Amidst an upbeat breakdown, guitarist Will Swan throws in an interesting rap part, which is then followed by some terrific wa-wa guitar work and soulful chanting from Jonny, and then concludes with some aggressive screaming from Jon.
The variety and level of experimentation remains wholly impressive throughout, and no song sounds quite like the other. Furthermore, on the song “Blue Dream” Jonny Craig gets to show off his true vocal prowess as the song takes on a very jazz and blues-esque tone with some beautiful verses and back-and-forth yelping between the two front-men. The song sadly loses some luster towards its half-baked final stretch, which ends bizarrely with a phone call involving Jonny and some half-asleep girl.
Jon Mess does have quite a few highlights: the weighty and raunchy “Pounce Bounce” and “Need Money” let’s Jon shine, although his vocal work is at its best when it meshes with Jonny’s angelic clean singing (“Elder Goose” is a good example of this). Unfortunately, strong unclean screaming aside, the biggest weakness on the album can be attributed to Jon’s absolutely nonsensical lyrics. While Jonny’s lyrics are relatively strong and ambiguous, Jon’s are just flat-out weird without ever feeling meaningful.
While I will admit that I laughed hard when reading the lyrics for “Need Money” which has a part that reads: “Don’t *** in my bed, though/It’s a fallacy/I LIKE MEATLOAF", this comical form of songwriting only works for so long. Jon stated in an interview that the lyrics are meant for artistic flow and delivery rather than meaning, but it also creates an odd disconnect between the two vocalists. They’re simply far too random and just don’t fit with Jonny’s far more inspired and coherent lyrics and as such, Jon’s role on certain songs feel questionable.
Yet in spite of some incoherency, it's still hard not to appreciate the level of talent and ingenuity on display. The guitar, bass and drum work absolutely sings here and so does Jonny Craig from the bottom of his lungs and while Jon does a fine job of contributing to the heavy-metal sound of the album, his lyrical themes will have to mature quite a bit for him to even come close to his superior vocal partner. All things considered, this is still one memorable and finely put together album, with every song being worthy of listening to and with many of them enticing the listener to come back.