Balance And Composure
UnderWerket, Copenhagen, DEN - 21/10
Dance Gavin Dance
Written by: TL on 14/11/2013 18:23:46
When Dance Gavin Dance dropped their first album "Downtown Battle Mountain" in 2007, it was like a nuclear bomb that forever changed the landscape of melodic post-hardcore. Where previously most reknowned bands had worked in strict screamed verse/high pitched clean chorus structures there was now a parallel scene characterised mostly by wild unpredictability and excessive technicality - a scene which has grown to a number of bands over the years, the most famous of which all seem tied to each other and to the West Coast area that spawned DGD in the first place (Just go google which contributors are shared across the works of DGD, Emarosa, A Lot Like Birds, Hail The Sun, Stolas, Sianvar and Secret Band).
While outsiders may have trouble telling the difference by now, Dance Gavin Dance has held onto a prominent status atop this new style, despite never carrying the same line-up over between any of their now five full lengths. Members have come, left, and returned again, most notably notorious vocalist Jonny Craig, whose return on last album "Downtown Battle Mountain II" was meant to mark a comeback to the band's breakthrough form, yet produced its most unfocused and underwhelming album to date, and in fact, the only Dance Gavin Dance album that I won't be in a hurry to recommend that you listen to.
When Craig's return eventually fizzled, the band's fate was initially up in the air until rumours started circulating that former Tides Of Man singer Tilian Pearson was in the mix to take over, and while Pearson - upon joining - was interviewed saying that there's no such thing as a fixed Dance Gavin Dance line-up, fans (read: I) quietly hoped that things would finally settle down a bit. Which brings us now to "Acceptance Speech": The band's long-awaited first album with Pearson, which also features new personnel in form of Josh Benton on rhythm guitar and Tim Ferrick on bass.
In Pearson the band now has a vocalist whose voice is smoother, cleaner and even higher than either of their former singers, joining the now seemingly solid core of lead guitarist Will Swan, screamer Jon Mess and drummer Matt Mingus and bringing along his producer friend Matt Malpass (famed for working with Copeland, Lydia, The Cinema and on Pearson's solo record), making "Acceptance Speech" the band's first album away from the skillful guidance of regular producer Kris Crummett. To begin with though, Swan, Mess and Mingus sound much like themselves, as Dance Gavin Dance's music continue to take form as melodic post-hardcore for the ADHD inflicted, all hyper-speed guitar exuberance, a rhythm section that switches schizophrenically between heavy and funky and screaming that's hysterical and self-indulgent. I hate to use a cop-out, but by now it really is the kind of thing you either get or not, and in my humble perspective the band's fusion of the insanely busy and the unlikely catchy is among the most awesome things in modern music.
With the new line-up however, changes are to be felt, mainly in the band finally sounding just a tiny shade tempered, with parts flowing together more seamlessly, and with Pearson and Mess substituting for the lead in dynamics that are perfectly forthcoming - dare I say almost conventional on occasion? The early single "The Robot With Human Hair Pt. 4" certainly hinted so, allowing plenty of space for its chorus, which pays off for the band because the song is among the catchiest and most ridiculously replay-worthy I've heard all year, marking the first of many moments when DGD Tilian Edition makes me wish my headphones would turn up infinitely.
Perhaps more importantly though, is that "Acceptance Speech" comes off as the most diverse and encompassing album the band has written, sneaking a plethora of new shades and references into the sound. Pearson seemingly tips his hat to Craig's original style in the barely noticeable power he applies to the last notes of the chorus to "..Human Hair pt. 4" while post-rock tremolo rings beneath his voice, and soon Swan tries his hand at rapping again, this time with more tongue-in-cheek success, referencing Ace Hood's crunk rap "Bugatti" and calling out imitators towards the end of the title track. Meanwhile "Carve" is dominated by a breakdown for a pre-chorus that sounds like the band working in a smidge of Norma Jean dissonance, "Strawberry Swisher pt. 3" is as crazy as an Icarus The Owl song rhythmically and "Demo Team" is all over the place and drenched in vocal effects before finishing with a fit of fist-pumping rage that could have been on a Circus Circus song - And those would just be a few of the curious nuances to be picked out as you zoom through the album with notes and beats disappearing past you like stars past a spaceship engaging hyperspeed.
To Dance Gavin Dance's credit, the most impressive thing about "Acceptance Speech" is that it sees them back in the shape where the swampy maze of details they offer is one it's hard to wrest one's ears from. Once you're hooked, the effect is lasting, and while many other progressively inclined bands tends to occassionally lose the listener's patience, Dance Gavin Dance are back to being just poppy enough to get under your skin, even while being ludicrously technical. It's music that melts your brain, but it's also music you want to dance and sing along to - In fact it's hard not to.
So then, fans can argue endlessly over whether Pearson sounds too neat compared to either Craig or his other predecessor Kurt Travis. I could observe that perhaps the attitude of the record is one of a bravado that doesn't quite match the vulnerability of the band's career highlight "Happiness". You could point out that Mess' lyrics are even more impenetrable and all over the place than the band's music. We could perhaps discuss if the album isn't frontloaded with its best tracks, losing catchiness in favour of aggression towards the end. It all seems besides the point as soon as the record is spinning, when it feels like the lyrics for instance, could be complete gibberish, and yet the band's charismatic brand of madness would still be almost counter-intuitively compelling. The fact is that DGD are back in the driver's seat, with one of the richest, most unique-sounding and replay-worthy albums of the year. You may need to be a bit of a post-modern mad person to connect with it, but if you do, I'm sure you'll join me in hoping that this is actually a new beginning for the band, despite them ominously burying that robot with the human hair towards the end of the record.
Download: The Robot With Human Hair Pt. 4, Jesus H. Macy, Acceptance Speech, Death Of The Robot With Human Hair
For The Fans Of: A Lot Like Birds, Stolas, Closure In Moscow, Mutiny On The Bounty, Icarus The Owl
Release Date 08.10.2013