Dance Gavin Dance - Dance Gavin Dance
Record Label: Rise Records
Release Date: August 19, 2008
I’m going to go on record by admitting that I have followed the controversy surrounding Dance Gavin Dance’s less-than-amicable split with distinctive vocalist Jonny Craig (and his subsequent acceptance as lead vocalist of the once synth-heavy post-hardcore band Emarosa) like a desperate eighth grade girl. Throughout the months preceding any release from either band, I closely monitored their respective developments by visiting (but never commenting) in the many forums that arose for the sole purpose of comparing the progress of the two. When Emarosa’s album came out earlier this summer I found my expectations unfulfilled with a more-or-less mediocre product. Out to prove that their sound was not defined by its illustrious ex-frontman, Dance Gavin Dance have returned with its self-titled album. But how does it rack up against its bastard sibling?
That, actually, is an extraordinarily difficult question to answer. Let me explain.
If it weren’t for two factors, I would pick Dance Gavin Dance as the superior, hands down. But that, unfortunately, isn’t reality. While Relativity is generally uniform in its average quality, Dance Gavin Dance fluctuates between extremes. It reaches heights of greatness Emarosa fails to achieve (“The Robot With Human Hair Pt. 3,” “Caviar,” “and “Burning Down the Nicotine Armoire Pt. 2”), but it also sports a hefty dollop of filler. One or two boring songs may have been forgivable, but when almost half of the music finds me reaching for the skip button, that’s a problem.
With “Rock Solid” leading the pack (the interlude in the middle literally makes me cringe/laugh), “Buffalo!,” “Reprogramming Mental Reprogramming,” “Skyhook,” and “People You Know” suck the life out of this record through a giant-sized straw, deflating any excitement generated by previous songs (it’s almost criminal how they place “Rock Solid,” easily the worst song on the album, right after “Caviar,” which is my personal favorite). It’s gotten to the point where I’ve made a separate playlist of songs that I like from the record, and I haven’t listened to the others since.
The second factor lies in the vocals. New singer Kurt Travis, while not able to reach the range of his predecessor, actually sings quite well; the problem is, he is not used nearly enough. Harsh vocals (compliments of Jon Mess, who is actually no longer in the band as of June) take up more playing time than in Downtown Battle Mountain, which, given different circumstances, would be fine. Interestingly, Mess’s vocals are actually very well suited for the band’s signature vocal layering because they are so bland. That’s why when the band uses call-and-answer techniques, it sounds incredible. Unfortunately, they don’t employ this tactic nearly as much as needed, instead opting to put Mess right at the forefront, naked and embarrassingly alone. Although his style has not changed through any of the band’s releases, it wasn’t until this album that I fully realized how forced his screaming sounds.
But enough about the bad, because this album has plenty of good on it worth mentioning. “Alex English,” while not quite the kind of intro you’d expect from Dance Gavin Dance, works surprisingly well at introducing the listener to the band’s sound. After a brief detour in “Buffalo!,” “Me and Zoloft Get Along Fine,” jumps in, featuring great guitar work, vocal layering and harmonizing in the form of shouts from other band members. “Hot Water On Wool” showcases a slowed side of the band that builds up to its soaring counterpart “Hot Water On Wool (Reprise).” Standout song “Caviar” features Chino Moreno of Deftones (while I’ve never been a huge fan of the band, it seems like his work with hardcore/post-hardcore bands leads to great results), and the dynamic between Moreno and Travis, mixed with the atmospheric guitar-work, creates a marvelous little auditory treat; it sounds exactly like what you’d expect a combination of the Deftones and Dance Gavin Dance to sound like. “Burning Down the Nicotine Armoire Pt. 2” manages to regain listeners’ trust after “Rock Solid,” and showcases some of Travis’s best vocal work and Armor for Sleep-tinged guitars.
Also, where the vocals have taken a dip since the band’s earlier work, the instrumentation has somehow gotten even better. Guitarists Will Swan and Zac Garren work together to create some of the most interesting work the band has ever offered, from the major-scaled fluttering of “The Robot With Human Hair, Pt. 3” to the subdued finger picking of “Uneasy Hearts Weight the Most.” Alongside them, Bassist Eric Lodge (who also is no longer a part of the band) lays down the perfect amount of depth to check the guitars, and Matt Mingus’s drum-work punches in all the right places, also helping to anchor the band.
At the end of the day, this record is more a collection of good songs separated by interludes of filler than anything I would call a fully coherent work, but the moments of greatness on this album make it obvious that Dance Gavin Dance are capable of making fantastic music. I’m truly excited to think what the band is going to produce with more time and a constant lineup.