Review Summary: man you'll feel like a million fucking bucks
Jon Mess has always been the weak link behind Dance Gavin Dance. From his rather innocuous contributions to the band’s early material to the ear-grating shrieks on Downtown Battle Mountain II
, he’s always been a sort of appendix to the band’s math-pop hybrids, ranting at times almost schizophrenically over the riff onslaughts the band churns out and never really applying his lyrics in an appealing way to the music itself. Of course, it’s a blessing that he doesn’t resort to monster growls or pterodactyl shrieks like so many of his Rise Records peers, and thanks to his solo work it’s become obvious that his true strengths do not lie within the DGD ranks.
Secret Band, a project that in essence encompasses all the brilliant things about Dance Gavin Dance while avoiding the constant warring between band members by ditching clean singers entirely, is Mess’ most musically appealing output. The self-titled EP of 2011 saw some of Will Swans best riffs to date form spidery webs of post-hardcore DNA, absolutely begging for a competent vocalist to take advantage. And Mess for once did, exerting himself in unseen ways with gravelly bellows accompanying his usual sarcastic bombast and making for great hooks that didn’t need a warbling Craig or Travis vocal to be memorable. Instrumentally the all too brief release saw the typical funky basslines and groovy guitar licks of the average DGD song, amplified to epic levels with a new approach to atmosphere that really sounded like the culmination of many years hard work.
With Acceptance Speech
recently under his belt, Mess and the rest of the band needed an escape from the Pearson-led madness through another Secret Band release. Starting as an outlet from a more commercially successful outfit, the success of the five piece’s debut meant they really had to rise to the challenge. And for the most part, they did. The lyrics, which were by no means tame before, really spiral into absolute depravity here. ‘Meat Fetish’, for one, rivals the inanity of DMBII
without as much sickeningly sweet R&B influence, while ‘Ladders’ embraces the glorious immaturity of Happiness
in a much more earthy tone, forsaking any trace of pop in favour of ominous breakdowns and garbled vocalisations. But there is a feeling of more concise, straightforward songwriting here. ‘Wasted Youth’ almost sounds like typical post-2005 metalcore as Mess trades vocals with Fight Fair vocalist Alex Bigman over clean, sharpened riffs before ascending into a flourish of technicality that could really only be pulled off by someone as talented as Swan.
Admittedly, this record does sound a lot more like DGD than its predecessor. Maybe it’s the self-titled era vocal characterisations being far more common, or the increase in wacky gang shouts, but this almost feels like a re-tread of older material in a few places. Most notably, ‘Biblee’ evokes Downtown Battle Mountain II
, and almost feels like a throwaway from said record as Craig’s buttery vocals could slide in nicely amidst the more melodic guitar playing of Zachary Garren (who ironically did not feature on that album). However, ‘melodic’ is not a word that could easily be applied to the majority of this album. Mess’ imprint is all over this record, and while the band sound exactly like they should in such a scenario, his domination influence at times drives them to play less focused, more intentionally bizarre material i.e. ‘Honey Boo Buscemi’. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy dollop of his trademark zest, but it’s often at the expense of the albums cohesion and that is where the band slip up.
Overall, this better than any project living in the shadow of DGD has any right to be, evoking the band’s best material often and only occasionally slipping into self-plagiarism. Sadly, the latter half of the record offers up far fewer highlights, and the dip in overall quality really harms its consistency. Far from a poor effort, this deserves to stand up against any of the recent DGD material, and displays invigorated sounding Mess at his full potential, unafraid of experimentation and almost never playing it safe. The result? Fun, but only in small doses.