Review: Dance Gavin Dance – Downtown Battle Mountain II

Posted: March 25, 2011 in Post-hardcore, Progressive
Tags: , , , ,

Band: Dance Gavin Dance
Album: Downtown Battle Mountain II
Label: Rise Records
Web: www.myspace.com/dancegavindance
Best songs: Heat Seeking Ghost of Sex, Elder Goose, Spooks
For fans of: Emarosa, early Saosin
Rating: 9/10

Album art

This is a notable release for a number of reasons. The album is a sequel to the band’s debut album, Downtown Battle Mountain (DBM), which is still considered by many to be the band’s best work. It also features the original line-up of the band, including rehab poster-boy Jonny Craig, although excluding guitarist Sean O’Sullivan. DBM is a good starting point to compare DBMII, it has far more in common sonically with DBM than the band’s previous two albums. However, it is far from a repeat, as the revived band have improved on the original in a number of ways, most strikingly on the production. The album is crisp and clear, you can hear every note, unlike the somewhat muddy production of their debut. DBMII also features a wider variety of styles, most notably hip-hop and funk, although there are far less chugging breakdowns than DBM, but this means there is only more space for Jonny Craig’s stratospheric vocals.

The album opens with Spooks, which has all the elements you’ve come to expect from Dance Gavin Dance: chaotic guitar pyrotechnics, hyperactive double-kick drumming, Craig’s emotive crooning and Jonathon Mess’s scratchy screams. Mid-song the band throws a curve ball in, with guitarist Will Swan rapping over minimalist verse, followed by a funky off-beat bridge. It’s definitely a surprise on the first listen, although the diverse styles on the album give it an individual feel and make it stand out. I’m sure many people will find, in particular, the hip-hop vocals to be distracting, although it should hardly be a surprise given Dance Gavin Dance’s penchant for quirky elements and thinking outside of the box.

Dance Gavin Dance in all their glory

The best part of the album is easily Jonny Craig’s stellar vocal performance. He is emotive, soulful and perfectly in form on this release, despite his recent, ah, personal problems. Highlights include his performance on Elder Goose, which is about the trappings of casual sex and substance abuse, and the snare and guitar build-up leading to the bridge in Heat Seeking Ghost of Sex, which Craig takes full advantage of to bring the song to an amazing climax. If there is any problem with his vocal parts, it’s that there’s not enough of them, with Mess taking far too many verses for this reviewer’s liking. Mess’s screams work best when used in conjunction with Craig’s cleans, either in duet or to provide contrast. However, when Mess gets a whole verse to himself things get tiring rapidly. Admittedly, his voice has become more coherent over time, though this is actually a bad thing as you can hear his ridiculous lyrics.

The one and only Jonny Craig

The band are firing all cylinders while Craig and Mess trade verses, with all the crazy metal drumming madness played perfectly, and the melodic yet technical guitar work grounding the band’s sound. The two guitar tracks are panned left and right, and are almost always wildly divergent, sometimes to the extreme of being seemingly random. That said, the guitar work is more cohesive than previous albums, and there is some mindblowing melodies and leads spread throughout this album, providing the perfect canvas for Craig to work his magic.

Conclusion:
This album is in my opinion Dance Gavin Dance’s best work. I actually really disliked the band before listening to this album, finding them too random and scattered, but this album has changed my mind. It’s focused, technically amazing, highly melodic and impeccably produced. Obviously Dance Gavin Dance’s eclectic style is not going to appeal to everyone, but if you are a fan already I’m sure you’ll find plenty here to enjoy, and I’d recommend everyone who enjoys a good post-hardcore record check this out, even if you aren’t a fan of their previous work.

Tracklisting:
1. Spooks
2. Pounce Bounce
3. The Robot with Human Hair Pt.2 1/2
4. Thug City
5. Need Money
6. Elder Goose
7. Heat Seeking Ghost Of Sex
8. Blue Dream
9. Privilously Poncheezied
10. Swan Soup
11. Purple Reign

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