ALBUM REVIEW: Dance Gavin Dance – Artificial Selection

The band that can produce album after album in next to no time, with consistent quality and without relying on filler, is often the band that garners the most loyal, dedicated fanbase. It’s the hallmark of a group with a surplus of talent, an abundance of energy, and an undying drive to satisfy the fans’ avaricious need for more. Few bands exhibit this quite like Dance Gavin Dance; Artificial Selection is their eighth studio album since 2007, and represents another huge stride in their never-ending victory lap.

Dance Gavin Dance formed in 2005, and occupy a curious niche in the sprawling, at-times bewilderingly diverse world of post-hardcore music. Mixing upbeat tempos, restless creativity, and barely-restrained aggression, Dance Gavin Dance employ a bittersweet mix of unclean vocals (executed ferociously by screamer Jon Mess) and traditional singing; originally, this was performed by Jonny Craig, who was replaced by former Tides of Man vocalist Tilian Pearson in 2012, in time for fifth album Acceptance Speech. The double-headed vocal monster of Pearson and Mess makes its mark all over Artificial Selection, and the entire band functions as a well-oiled machine: despite a number of lineup changes over the years, this incarnation of Dance Gavin Dance means business.

Artificial Selection begins with “Son of Robot”, where peaceful guitar harmonies clash against frenzied percussion, punctuated by Mess’ unhinged yowls. The first half of the album continues at a blistering pace into “Midnight Crusade” and “Suspended In This Disaster”, as Tillian’s vocals soar to ever-higher heights over the melodic maelstrom below. Sugary-sweet choruses reel you in, and surreal lyricism keeps you invested; “The more I tried to sleep it off the more I started thinking / I wanna live in mushroom park, do unrestricted shrinking” (“Midnight Crusade”). Will Swan’s lead guitar dances and skitters across the tonality spectrum, while Tim Feerick’s bass hangs back tastefully, before stepping into the sunlight for flashes of fuzzed-out grooviness. Matt Mingus’ drums pummel and pound in perfect, vicious harmony with Jon Mess’ unclean vocals; each band member adds a unique voice to the nonstop parade of great riffs and irresistible rhythms.

Say you don’t hate me for nothing
Hate me for falling out of reach
Hate me for something
Never knew that you could be so lonely

– Tilian Pearson, “Son of Robot” (2018)

One of the most captivating features of Dance Gavin Dance’s music is their ability to almost make two songs into one; just as you think you’re getting used to something, the mood changes, the chorus breaks, and you find yourself somewhere completely new. This organic progression from one part to the next is found in a few tracks on Artificial Selection, but nowhere better than on “Care”; beginning with Tillian’s gentle, impassioned vocals (“For now we’ll lay by the ocean … For now we’ll act like we’re still young“), the song escalates towards an infectiously groovy coda which comes right out of left-field, and is over almost as quickly as it began: it’s impossible not to be left craving more.

Artificial Selection moves briskly into its second half, as “Slouch” barrel-rolls into “Story Of My Bros” and “Hair Song”; each track short and sharp, quick to the point, with not a moment going to waste. The final song of the album, “Evaporate”, features a number of lyrical nods to past records as sentimental rewards for the longtime fans, yet offers something equally special for the newcomers; aside from the contributions of Pearson and Mess, Andrew Wells of Eidola commits his soulful, gruff vocals to the melee, making for one of Dance Gavin Dance’s most intense, impassioned album closers to date.

Artificial Selection offers an innumerable range of standount moments; from the gang-vocal singalong of “Count Bassy”, to the math-rock glitchiness of “Shelf Life”‘s histrionic guitars, to the woodwind tones hanging in the background of “Gospel Burnout”‘s mid-section breakdown. The entire 51-minute run is bursting with emotionality, and boasts more musical ideas per song than most bands conjure up for a whole album, yet manages to make the whole affair sound effortless with commendable levels of musical dexterity and virtuosity. All this, and it took less than 24 months since last album Mothership (Oct. 2016) came out – that’s nothing short of a marvel. Dance Gavin Dance are unstoppable; long may they reign.

Note: Apologies for the inactivity! There’s been a lot going on lately and it’s been tough to prioritise, plus there’s so much new music coming out at once that it’s difficult to keep track. That being said, I hope you enjoyed this review, Dance Gavin Dance are a band who I completely vibe with and I’d love to expose their music to more people. Let me know what you think, and I’ll see you next time. (Also, happy 4th of July to my American readers! You guys have produced some great music over the years.)

Josh Will Eden

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