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Album Review: DANCE GAVIN DANCE – Mothership

Dance Gavin Dance don’t give fans much room to be casual. For those who enjoy this sound the most, they are legends, and Mothership is one of their best albums, or at least filled with some of the best individual moments.

From the distinct style of their album art, to the utter nonsense song titles (and often equally bizarre lyrics), to the unique avant-garde playing style of lead guitarist Will Swan, Dance Gavin Dance have always flaunted their weirdness, and it has always worked quite well for them. While they aren’t what would be considered a mainstream success, they do have an absolutely diehard fan base, who often credit Will Swan with creating an entire subgenre of metalcore, dubbed Swancore in honorific. Even across multiple lineup changes (clean vocalist Tillian Pearson is the band’s 3rd singer), they have maintained a steady sound that is distinctly them. A blend of mathy guitar noodling, jazzy chords and random shifts mid-song, moments of brief metalcore aggression, and unhinged screams from unclean vocalist Jon Mess contrasted with angelic, often R&B-soaked ultra-high clean vocals appears on nearly every song throughout the band’s previous six albums, and seventh release Mothership is a similar beast. [columns] [column size=”1/3″]

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Artist: Dance Gavin Dance
Album Title: Mothership
Release Date: 07 October 2016
Label: Rise Records
[list style=”music”] [li]Chucky vs. The Giant Tortoise[/li] [li]Young Robot[/li] [li]Frozen One[/li] [li]Flossie Dickey Bounce[/li] [li]Deception[/li] [li]Inspire the Liars[/li] [li]Philosopher King[/li] [li]Here Comes the Winner[/li] [li]Exposed[/li] [li]Betrayed by the Game[/li] [li]Petting Zoo Justice[/li] [li]Chocolate Jackalope[/li] [li]Man of the Year[/li] [/list]
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Right off the bat, “Chucky Vs. The Giant Tortoise” hits with alternating lines from Mess and Pearson, and they are both in top form. One issue I have always had with Mess is his enunciation is often a bit muddled, and he sounds much clearer on Mothership. Pearson impresses as well, sounding equal parts Tyler Carter from Issues and Stephen Christian from Anberlin, especially when he howls out little half-screams. The drumming from Matt Mingus is also excellent here, anchoring the song when Swan blasts off into a screeching solo during the finale. “Young Robot” drifts in on clean open chords and a gorgeous flute melody, and the verse is velvety smooth even with the constant runs from Swan. Tillian’s melodies here are absolutely outstanding, and his delivery actually makes the song sound a little like Coheed And Cambria. “Frozen One” has a bright but hard-charging riff from Swan, but the vocal hooks are a step down and relegate the song to filler status. “Flossie Dickey Bounce” brings the album back up to full speed though, with a goofy but hooky shouted chant of “Cocaine! Christmas!” from Mess kicking things off. The song certainly is bouncy, with a groove riff processed through enough effects to come out like a glitching arcade cabinet (they even add outright Galaga sound effects during a later verse).

Deception” has a beautiful drifting intro quickly ripped apart by high-pitched chugging machine gun bursts of guitar and Mess’s rasping roar. Swan quickly spins off into his own little world, and while his riff is jaw-dropping from a technical standpoint (seriously, that chorus is nuts), it also totally overpowers the rest of the song. “Inspire The Liars” is a little slower, with a soaring guitar line that, paired with Tillian’s effortless range, gives this a distinct Saosin vibe. The song would be merely7 decent without Pearson, but his performance here is game-changing. “Philosopher King” gives Mess some time to snarl and spit over a swirling, angry riff (think Say Hello To Sunshine era Finch), but the chorus is largely forgettable. “Here Comes The Winner” finds a promising funk groove (credit to bassist Tim Feerick), and the slow 80s stomp of what SOUNDS like the first chorus paired with Mess’s screams is one of the catchiest moments of the album, which makes it extra frustrating when the band shift away from such an obvious hook and never come back to it. “Exposed” makes up for this with another stellar performance from Tillian. The music is restrained and tinged a little bit with 90s alternative (the chiming music box riff is a serious throwback), and Pearson gets to croon and yelp with abandon, but it’s not just the proficiency that’s impressive: this is one of the catchiest choruses of the year, and if this is released it could be a sleeper radio hit.

Single “Betrayed By The Game” is solid, and that’s about the best that can be said of it. The chorus hook is good, the vocal delivery from both Mess and Pearson is good, the showoff lead run from Swan is memorable enough, but the song as a whole never fully gels; the closest it comes is a post-chorus where Mess shreds his voice over a twinkling, spacey riff. “Petting Zoo Justice,” on the other hand, definitely makes an impression: it kicks off with a straight-up black metal pummeling and an equally darker, more intense scream from Mess. Even when it morphs into drifting moments, it doesn’t lose the intensity it’s built up. Swan also gets to shine as he dials in his guitar tone to give a solo with a huge Maiden/Judas Priest sound, even if it is buried a little into a random bridge. “Chocolate Jackalope” is another fun deviation, with Swan leading off the song with his best Eddie Van Halen impression, and the transition into a massive sing-along chorus is equally impressive. The contrast between Mess’s screams and Swan’s downright chipper riff also does wonders, although the left-field foray into electronic dance music in the middle is a failed experiment. Closer “Man Of The Year” starts calm and lets the band build steadily on the back of a haunting vocal refrain from Tillian. There aren’t many surprises (the climax is telegraphed, but cathartic nonetheless), but this song could work wonders in a live set to help raise the energy mid-set.

Dance Gavin Dance don’t give fans much room to be casual. For those who enjoy this sound the most, they are legends, and Mothership is one of their best albums, or at least filled with some of the best individual moments. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan. Jon Mess is a bit of a one-note screamer, I prefer more bite in my clean vocals, and while Will Swan’s guitar heroics are impressive, they’re also oftentimes distracting. Mothership doesn’t fix any of those flaws, especially Swan’s tendency to overplay, but it does refine what Dance Gavin Dance have always done right into a more focused core (the near-perfect choruses of “Young Robot” and “Exposed”), and when they do try something a little different (“Petting Zoo Justice” and “Chocolate Jackalope”), they knock it out of the park.

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