Review Summary: Not groundbreaking, but that Jonny sure can sing.
The first time I heard Dance Gavin Dance I remember telling my girlfriend at the time that she was going to have to work a little harder if she wanted to keep my love. There was another man in my life, and his name was Jonny Craig. She shrugged that off as me just being weird (which yeah, of course I was kidding, but if your love for a woman can be marginalized by your love for a man you’ve never met then there’s probably an issue), but as it turns out, my relationship with Dance Gavin Dance would ultimately outlive my fleeting relationship. Still, I can’t help but think that Downtown Battle Mountain shares some distinct characteristics with a summer romance. Its awe wears off with time, but you’re still left with some good tracks to listen to and maybe come out feeling a little differently.
So how important is Jonny’s voice on Downtown Battle Mountain" Pretty damn important. Jonny Craig’s voice is nothing short of amazing and he never disappoints. Whether he’s straining his voice and singing “I don’t know why, I don’t know why, I fight for you this way,” or crooning about taking a girl’s innocence in the backseat of a car, his voice soars above the backdrop of the instrumentals and really sells the album. Without him, I venture to say that this would be a mediocre release at best.
However, his voice isn’t everything. He’s backed up by Jon Mess, who, while sounding like he has a case of severe bronchitis, manages to add some much needed contrast to Craig’s clean vocals. Also noteworthy are Mess’s hilarious one-liners like when he screams “turn off the lights, I’m watching back to the future!” They don’t tend to fit with the tones of the songs, but god bless him for trying. Without Mess I fear that Craig’s vocals would have fallen flat on this release and not even his voice could hold the album together (I’ll cite Emarosa for their only Craig approach that becomes monotonous rather quickly.)
The rest of the band does a decent job of setting the soundscape for the vocals and mostly serves as a vehicle for Jonny to do his thing. They do succeed at creating some exceptional moments for Craig to shine, but they don’t do anything particularly remarkable. And that’s where the problem arises. There are only so many times you can listen to a man sing his heart out with an average backdrop before it starts to get a bit boring. There are a couple of tracks that do something interesting with instrumentation like the intro of “Lemon Meringue Tie” or the break near the end of “Open your Eyes and Look North” where Craig sings along with a whining guitar. However, the lack of interesting instrumentation is a clear detractor.
Downtown Battle Mountain succeeds as an album that can stun you with the vocals upon first listen but that loses its allure over time due to the lack of inspired instrumentation. Whenever I decide to put it on now, I’m not searching for groundbreaking experimentation or some truth in the lyrics. I really just want to hear Jonny Craig sing the way only he can sing while the band creates some perfect spaces for him to be showcased. It’s not something that creates lasting resonance, but there are good moments that can be returned to when you just want to hear something solid.