Before we start, you can thanks my friend and colleague Jonce for this episode of A Scene In Retrospect, as it was them who alerted me to the fact that Dance Gavin Dance‘s self-titled record would have its ten-year anniversary this year (15 days from now, to be exact). This was reason enough for me to shift around the feature’s schedule a bit, and even though I prefer the Jonny Craig albums in DGD‘s discography, I agree that the occasion was too good to pass up on. So strap in for a wild ride, as EIN members David, Jake, Jonce, and Ashley give you a piece of their minds on this record. Please enjoy!
When a band’s line-up changes with a certain amount of regularity, albums begin serving as landmarks as well as entertainment. Dance Gavin Dance have had their share of line-up changes over the years, most notably behind the microphone(s). On their self-titled LP (which surprisingly isn’t the debut), Kurt Travis takes on the role of lead clean vocals for the outgoing Jonny Craig. So along with the expectation of new material from fans, this record came with a whole new dynamic to judge with the vocalist change. I think history has shown that Kurt did more than enough to assuage the fears of existing fans and help win over skeptics along the way.
This album sits at close to fifty-three minutes of whimsical and frenetic post-hardcore infused with mathy and progressive influences. The opener “Alex English” is rife with harsh vocals and acrobatic riffs. What I love about this being the first song on the record is that Jon Mess’ unclean rasp leads the opening of the song and goes on for a while before Kurt’s soaring cleans debut. Whether or not this was intentional I don’t know, but I liked the extra suspense that this created. It’s a fine song on its own merits, but the introductory role it played makes it a little more special.
There are plenty of songs to dig into here, including “Caviar” with guest Chino Moreno, and the creative two-part “Hot Water On Wool”. The energy is consistent throughout the album, and it’s honestly pretty relentless. When revisiting this album what I love hearing is how consistent DGD have been over the years. Although the genre lines continue to blur as time passes and musical fads come and go, this band continues to do what they want and never seem to lack an audience. Dance Gavin Dance is a snapshot from a decade ago, but its vibrance has lost none of its luster.
From the word go, Dance Gavin Dance immediately fire up more than a few hallmarks of the post hardcore/mathcore scene, through which numerous bands projected their rage and angst between 2000 and 2010. Dance Gavin Dance’s second, self-titled album has a delivery that is by no means lacking in charisma. Like everything with the word ‘hardcore’ in the genre, ‘post’ or otherwise, it pulsates with adrenaline. It seemed to me on the surface like this was a stable rearrangement of previous benchmarks in the genre. And I have always been more impressed by experimental deviants of the scene, naming The Ongoing Concept as one prime example.
But there is a unique sense of rawness in this record. The vocals and lyrics have an intense sense of directness; the guitar work is speedy, highly impressive and with a real punch, arguably the highlight of the album for my money. And even in the more somber moments, it does not let up.
It utilizes some nicely honed attributes of The Mars Volta and The Dillinger Escape Plan to create its own beast. Is it blasphemy to say that I even hear some Mudvayne in there? Well, I do. And I mean it as a compliment. We also get treated to some nice serenading from Mr. Chino Moreno in eighth track ‘Caviar’, one of his softer musical cameos, of which there are several.
Even if you are several miles away from being a fan of this style of heaviness, you can’t in any honest state of mind criticise the talent on show on this record. You may have heard similar bands doing similar things in the years prior to this album’s 2008 release. Yet Dance Gavin Dance still serves as a case study in how it’s done right. And it’s all there: the angst, the heaviness, the musicianship, and most of all, the passion.
Recalling the days in high school where I would dabble in artists like My Chemical Romance, Thursday, and The Used, but never committed to popular post-hardcore and emo (Coheed and The Blood Brothers were my go-tos for teen angst). Regardless of my proclivities, new or old, Dance Gavin Dance have been around for a while, and have become genre stalwarts with their self-titled album being among the best of their output.
The best assets of music like this are the energy and melody, and DGD has those in spades. Drumming is manic, bordering on metal pacing at times; guitar work has mathy touches with quick fretting and progressive approaches. Some songs on the record have multiple distinct movements and segmenting. “Buffalo!” and “Me and Zoloft Get Along Just Fine” are prime examples. Little tweaks like the echoing of the opening riff of “Hot Water on Wool” give the song a warmth it otherwise wouldn’t have.
Vocals are emotive, mostly screamed, but take breaks for clean parts that really bring the melody. The chorus of the aforementioned “Me and Zoloft Get Along Just Fine” stands out particularly. The harmonies are nice, as are the gang vocals that pop up here and there. This makes calmer moments like “Uneasy Hearts Weigh the Most” delightful.
All of this creates a recipe for emotional catharsis. There’s a youthful presence with DGD. It comes through with the energy and the execution, practically tailor-made for the scorned teen in us all; the one filled to the brim with hormones, unrequited love, identity uncertainty, finding what you wanted to do with the rest of your life. This is music that must have given so many people a sense of belonging and understanding, and that’s worth something.
It may not be my go-to music, but it’s easy to see why Dance Gavin Dance have captivated an audience through their decade-plus career, all the way up until their most recent album Artificial Selection, which dropped mere months ago. Oh, and having a cool feature from Chino Moreno (Deftones) helps too. 😉
Jonce Marshall Palmer
There’s not much that can be said about Dance Gavin Dance that hasn’t already been said. I could wax poetic about which of their singers I think is best, like a lot of people have done over the years. I could also try to imagine what it would’ve been like to see these guys live ten years ago, or try to argue why this album is the best in their discography.
But I’m not going to do any of those things, because that type of nostalgia would be premature. Contrary to popular belief, and as much as longtime fans would hate to admit it, the band is still touring, still making music. By the way some fans act, one would think that the band had stopped a long time ago.
So let’s look at Dance Gavin Dance (the album) as a stepping stone from which their later work stems. While I think Downtown Battle Mountain is definitely where DGD’s signature sound began to take shape, Dance Gavin Dance is where ‘gavincore’, their progressive brand of math rock and post-hardcore, finally solidified. Compositionally and melodically, “Reprogramming Mental Preprogramming” is a precursor to what would be “We Own The Night” seven years later.
“Alex English” starting off the record with this suicide-by-cop story is such a weird choice. The choirboy background vocals may not have aged well for some, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. The tirade towards the middle of “People You Know” rings a little hollow to me these days, but as a whole nine-minute closer, it still works. And “Uneasy Hearts Weigh The Most”…honestly…what a bop.
Finally, one must think of all the bands this album had an impact on, like Hail the Sun and I The Mighty to name a few. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the members of Chon didn’t bump tracks like “Buffalo!” back in the day, but that’s just my theory. Many have tried to imitate the sound DGD found on their self-titled LP, but I believe few will ever succeed. It’s a unique little moment in music history with repercussions still being felt today.
Well, that’s all for now folks! The nostalgia was strong with this one again, and I hope that you felt it as intensely as we did. If you want, you can leave your thoughts on/feelings for/memories with this band and album in the comments.
Tune back in when we return with another romp through a classic record in fourteen days! Until then, stay safe, and as always…
…thanks for reading!