Eight albums into a career and to still be producing sounds anew is quite the marvel. It’s a marvel which the talismanic Will Swan seems to do with an effortless swagger, his guitar wizardry as natural as blinking eyelids. And when you insert such a prolific songwriter amongst a crowd of other talented misfits, you get the band we don’t deserve: Dance Gavin Dance.
I don’t think that Matt Mingus has ever left his drum stool, nor has Jon Mess ever woken up from some sort of lucid nightmare, but now Artificial Selection cements The Mingus as the only member of Sacramento’s solitary post-hardcore-cum-funk-lullaby outfit to play on every song that they have released. He’s the ultimate definition of ‘the old guard’, alongside Will Swan who passes his godly guitar duties on Bloodsucker to two members of the sprawling Secret Band/DGD alumni. Metally fret runs separate this cut only slightly from the band’s maddening level of diversity, which has seemingly reached the peak even after 13 years of drunken songwriting. For die hard DGD-ites and newcomers (where the hell have you been?), this latest addition to a rapidly growing catalogue of musical tomfoolery is a gem, both harkening to the ‘Golden Age’ and showcasing Tilian Pearson as the best thing to happen to Dance Gavin Dance since they fired Jonny Craig for falsely selling Macbooks.
“It’s like we’ve been voyeuristically watching the sitcom-esque familial life of the band”
Son of Robot, continuing the saga of ‘The Robot with Human Hair’ series – which began with the band’s inception – is just one instance of self-referencing the band have repeated throughout their career, it’s more chillaxing atmosphere matching the amazing Young Robot from past LP Mothership, complete with flute. If one remembers the more maniacal fret shredding of past Robot songs, it still nestles in nicely to many of Tilian’s ever more confident swooning verses. Perhaps first demonstrated by Shark Dad a few years back, now the band’s bipolar tendencies have reached new levels with The Rattler, essentially Jon Mess shrieking random noises and talking about apples before being comforted by his frontman pal, whose gravelly voice, now four albums in, is as resolute as we expected. It’s like we’ve been voyeuristically watching the sitcom-esque familial life of the band, delighted that Tilian is that one we don’t pick on any more. As if we ever did; Acceptance Speech, in hindsight, is a truly brilliant DGD debut, with vocal duty debuts being a common feature in the band’s history.
Not-so-new boy Tim Feerick’s bouncing bass resonates on The Rattler and Slouch, the opener sounding as doomy and urgent as an important boss level on Crash Bandicoot, and the more prominent bass sound even gets a song title shout-out, Count Bassy, a mainly airy affair complete with soothing “da da das” and a video seemingly directed by David Lynch. Various other noises come courtesy of Swan’s instrument of course, as he overlays multiple noodling riffs all at the same time, and lends much more time to slowing-and-building atmospheres this time around. Care relies a ton on Tilian and Jon’s yin and yang chorus tradeoffs, a slightly deviation from other madness at play across the album’s course, particularly in the brisker Mess-led tunes. The Rattler is by far their heaviest tune to date with the screaming hooligan at his very peak. Plus, Story of My Bros has him saying “I’m smoking weed out of a pussy filled with money”. Why? It’s almost gone beyond the point of delving into the bloke’s incredibly creative nonsense.
“Effortless weaving of interpolations and reprises from past songs into one trademark package”
Hearing Kurt Travis’ return (a hugely underrated component of DGD’s history) on Shelf Life is genuinely heartwarming, sounding as if he never even left. Indeed, Swan and co. have made a distinct effort to diversify and lend guest parts, retaining their signature flavour in the process, but one can’t help but yearn for a zany auto-tuned rap verse from the axeman himself. It’s missing here, however, the band end the effort with Evaporate; the ideal closer clocking in at almost 5 minutes, featuring another impressive guest vocal from guitarist Andrew Wells. It’s a showcase of the group’s tight knit musicianship, and does something that surely brings the whole fanbase to their knees – the effortless weaving of interpolations and reprises from past songs into one trademark package. Tree Village, And I Told Them I Invented Times New Roman, Acceptance Speech and We Own the Night all appear in new guises, but the finale’s culmination with Me and Zoloft Get Along Just Fine’s chorus (now sung by Tilian rather than the aforementioned Travis) and the leading duo barking “You got what you paid for!” à la fan favourite Alex English is just fucking beautiful. Rather unhelpfully, I’m at a loss for words.
The ridiculous consistency of their efforts now seems to have been concocted at half-pace. With the drop of Artificial Selection, both connecting the various dots of DGD’s sporadic back catalogue and justly providing their most diverse and daring offering to date, don’t expect this outlandish carnival to end any time soon. As if we want it to.
Image: Dance Gavin Dance