Dance Gavin Dance - Happiness
Release Date: June 2, 2009
Record Label: Rise Records
Line-up changes in a full-time touring band are inevitable. Whether it is a renewed love for being at home and closer to loved ones, the pursuit of other ventures, offers from other bands, or a flat-out disagreement on the band’s direction, change is as inevitable as it is unpredictable in the scene. The members of Dance Gavin Dance know this all too well.
After parting ways with one of the scene’s most respected (and outspoken) voices, Johnny Craig, the band moved on by adding Kurt Travis, formerly of Five Minute Ride. The next album, whose title is still disputed (The Death Star Album, Dance Gavin Dance, and Untitled are three possibilties), was the last made with Jon Mess, whose unique screaming effects gave the band a very distinct sound in correlation with Craig’s incredible range. With two vocalists who helped diversify the band in the scene gone, DGD looked inward rather than outward for the solution. Enter the band’s guitar maestro and key songwriter, Will Swan.
Enter: Happiness, the ambitious third full-length from the band, with Travis nearly taking over all vocals, and Swan filling in the empty spaces with a deep roar of a scream. As opposed to the styles of Mess, many fans will see Swan as an upgrade. Mess was known for being very sloppy and incomprehensible, and Swan is, at the very least, passable. As far as Travis is concerned, he finds himself in a very tough position. No matter how many records he makes with Dance Gavin Dance, fans of the older material of the band (mostly, the stellar Downtown Battle Mountain) will always compare him to Craig. This is entirely unfair. That being said, Travis more than pulls his weight on Happiness.
The opening track “Tree Village” opens slowly, with Travis dominating a quiet tone, before opening up into a typical Dance Gavin Dance track, characterized by chaotic and precise guitars headlined by Swan, with a sense of haste throughout. While the word “typical” is usually one to avoid in the creation of new music, Dance Gavin Dance do a great job of keeping their product fresh not only on “Tree Village” but throughout the entire album.
Happiness find Dance Gavin Dance exploring new ground throughout ten tracks. “Don’t Tell Dave” is a straight-up catchy song, featuring a cowbell beat to boot. The title track is a very ambitious track in that it contains a chorus, which the band tends to stay away from. Though they break new ground, the band return to their favorite way to stick out: by making songs in parts. This album features “Strawberry Swisher" parts I and II, while past endeavors include “Burning Down the Nicotine Armoire” parts I and II, “Hot Water on Wool” and “Hot Water on Wool (Reprise),” and the fan favorites “The Robot With Human Hair” parts I-III. The album also contains some flaws in its songwriting (see “Strawberry Swicher Part I” and “I’m Down With Brown Town”). This, however, does not stop the band from continuing to push their creative boundaries. With songs like “Strawberry Swisher Part I” and “Happiness” leaning towards a slower pace than what fans have come to expect, the band prove that they have the potential to rise above their current spot in the scene and become a powerhouse.
Happiness culminates with the one song that can be chosen to fully represent the creativity the band possesses. Beginning and ending with experimental-esque guitar solos and featuring a display of Travis’s underrated (yeah, I said it) pipes, which gives fan a glimpse of just how good he really is. The track builds up to an unexpected rap by Swan himself. Fans of the band may have seen this coming. The band featured Lil’ Wayne as one of their influences on MySpace (as if that counts for anything), and even quoted the New Orleans nightmare in a song (don’t believe me? Listen to “Skyhook”). Tastes in music aside, Swan’s rap is far from a gimmick. It is full proof of the amount of ambition and creativity the band have. All things considered, “Powder to the People” may not be a fan-favorite track, but it is the personification of the band’s potential.
Happiness is a confusing record. Though the band have released three full-lengths, this is the first with Travis and Swan as the recorded vocalists, and by far the most different in sound. This may scare Johnny Craig enthusiasts longing for Craig’s return to the band (or the AP news feed), but Travis’s vocals are definitely on par with the band’s previous releases. Fans need not be scared; Happiness features qualities that hooked listeners in the first place, while changing the band’s game enough to gain them a new set of fans as well.
really like this review.
strawberry swisher pt 1 & 2 were big surprises for me. some of my favourites of the album aswell as dont tell dave. while lyrically i didnt think it was great they are damn catchy songs with great vocal performances.
Great review, and I absolutely love the RIYL (#12 is my favorite band). I've been debating checking this out, but I think you've finally convinced me to. The remarks about the bad lyrics have always scared me away.