I was amongst the throngs who reveled in Jonny Craig deciding that it was time to make amends with Dance Gavin Dance as they brought the old lineup back with Jon Mess heaving his guttural tones and screaming back into the mix alongside the pulsating bass of Eric Lodge and frenetic riffs of Will Swan. Known for empathic solos, the proper blend of screaming roughly and the harmonic vocals of the angel-voiced Craig, it was up in the air to see if the Kurt Travis-sung albums would be wiped and semblance regained to the likes of Downtown Battle Mountain' and Whatever I Say is Royal Ocean. This lineup was clamored for and fans got their desires; but would the lads live up to the glory days of olden?
Kris Crummett takes the production reins once again to bring the best out of this band after helming all ships in the past arsenal of DGD albums, and with the hopes of bringing the best out of Jonny once again, we are sprung with the opening tracks that bear dominating guitar-picking and riffing coupled with the enthralling drumline pounding that beats pulses upon pulses under shotgun double-kicking by Matt Mingus. It's the commencement of "Spooks" that lends ears to the DTBM 1 album and sets a quivering tone in a welcome style to hopes of the past. "Pounce Bounce" gives an experimental technique yet calm tone that surprisingly is owned not by Craig but by Jon Mess. Mess goes all out and holds nothing back with lines like "What's it like to be an atheist? / Are you okay with suicide?" He unleashes all the grit, charisma and pure energy that his unclean vocals can bring. It complements Craig so well, and fans would reverberate that these polar opposites are fire and ice, light to the dark that concoct something special.
Happiness and Dance Gavin Dance weren't bad albums by any stretch of the imagination, but they lacked the violent turbulence that Craig and Mess brought forth. They blend their contrasting styles equivocally and mesh into a streamlined pattern of defense and thrashing progression that somehow mix in the accurate and exact proportions of instrumentals that make this band shine. What surprises here is that this new album doesn't hinge on Jonny alone, but instead pivots on highlighting the irrevocable strengths of Swann, Mess, Lodge and Mingus. This is an ensemble effort, with each member adding his hown spin and finding his own right time to be in the musical spotlight. This is highlighted on tracks like "The Robot w/ Human Hair 2.5" and more so on the playful "Need Money," which under the shifted lineup last year and year before, may have caught the ire of fans. Somehow with the gang back together, there is a singular flow to the songs and this segueing transition smoothly traverses the track player when the switch is made from Mess to Craig, and especially from track to track. We end up with a laminar fit that wreaks frantic and damaging havoc to our ears with an audio-aesthetic that we know these guys are capable of.
At the next juncture, we get the two strongest tracks on this album in the personal and seemingly traumatic vendetta of a ballad turned hardcore in "Elder Goose" and the riveting "Heat Seeking Ghost of Sex." The former proves to be the personal crown that Jonny thrives on lyrically and vocally, and are also encapsulated in his early DGD days, solo works, Isles and Glaciers and even Emarosa. Encompassing the latter track, it's again the yin-yang partnership of Mess/Craig that accentuates the impressive yet durable Swann guitar work that stands lightheartedly with fun, but never loses the meaning and ferocity. These tracks show the versatility of the band and diversity that the past two albums tried but could not fully capture.
"Feeling her grind made me lose my mind / I'm just plain old take-home material / I keep my fingers crossed / Hoping to find a way to show you what I'm made of / Throw all our worries to the wind!" We get no false pretenses as we see the gents set a coarse path out as they try to reinvigorate the fanbase that yearned for the early glory and golden days, and they do well to not tarnish earlier works while instilling new elements that show progression and a foot forth in the right direction.
Lines like "I'd hate to say no when it comes to those beautiful blue eyes" resonate with the thrilling yet somewhat succinct subtlety ingrained in "Priviously Poncheezied" which like its predecessor "Blue Dream" volumizes the capacity of innovation and patented skill of the composition and arranging of these tunes. It's a volatile shake-up from the last foray by DGD and to me--"Impressive" is just one word I can fathom to call it.
"My cost is cheap / My words are deep / Cutting right through your soul / It's sad to see the lights burn out / Burn my words unchanged" shows a degree of stability and maturity on "Swan Soup" that many a fan would love Craig to adopt permanently, but it's his spontaneity and nerve-wrecking antics that I am certain lends credence to the immensely cathartic music. The visceral ebb and flow to these songs demonstrate the aura and embers that DGD possess and whether you relinquished the band or sought Craig's return as a remedy, the climax is a fitting finale that closes off well with a sweet standing ovation. It's no orchestra but the plural woes that many found faults with are cynically analyzed to ascertain if this is worthy to be dubbed DTBM 2. The renditions here as the album ends catalyze for me a disc that doesn't lay threadbare and never stands dormant as it incorporates just the perfect amount of old school DGD with new cadence. It's a cacophony of strife and a dissonant lace of bricks and mortar as Craig and Mess cement their place in our minds again. The instrumentals are done more than justice when the final product spins to the audience's ears.
I agonized as I anticipated this album under the auspices of DTBM 1, but as I've learned from the pageantry of Thursday's War all the Time and Full Collapse, as well as DTBM 1; such albums are masterpieces that stand alone and shouldn't be followed up. They can be diverted into or stray along different rivulets with hopes of improvisation and improvement; but what these bands do - they continue to put out albums that are bouquets paying homage to music past yet charting a road forward; and should be appreciated for the new ventures they are. It's hard to live up to such high expectations of albums past but one thing is certain at the end of this CD--Dance Gavin Dance had a well-woven tapestry in tracks of old days, and despite some falters in between, the canvas is well-painted again for a lusty 42 minutes. There will be cynical fans and as resounding as their pleas echo, the plethora of efforts put out time after time by the trials and tribulations of DGD do bear a sweet-tasting fruit. It isn't DTBM 1 but if I could have dreamt up a levitated sophomore to it…dare I say a follow-up…this DTBM 2 would definitely exclaim it.