Just last year, Dance Gavin Dance, one of the key faces of the post-hardcore genre brought us Instant Gratification, its second album with vocalist Tilian Pearson. Laced with poppy, yet substance-filled lyrics from its clean singer and the refined screams from unclean vocalist Jon Mess, DGD’s sixth release was a hit, but upon first listen, a lot of fans, both new and old, had worries that it was too similar to their previous album Acceptance Speech. However, “Variation,” one of its concluding tracks, was just that: a variation. Core bands with a clean and an unclean vocalist often have difficulties featuring the two, but “Variation” was probably one of the only songs in their discography at the time where Pearson and Mess were equals; the chorus to this song showed that Tilian with his raspier vocals could run with the same heaviness as Mess, and it, in my opinion, was the standout song of the album. On August 18th, 2016, we were given a reminder of “Variation” with the release of “Chucky vs. The Giant Tortoise” as the first single to Mothership, soon to be one of 2016’s most cohesive and consistent albums.
The hype was on. From the moment that Matt Mingus’ sticks hit his drums and Will Swan accompanied him with his intricate riffs, we DGD fans collectively gushed over the new unified direction that the band was heading towards. Tilian and Jon matched blow for blow with their back and forth lyrics with the former adopting a rougher tone to match the latter’s heavier uncleans. In my opinion, one of the band’s best lyrics—“Let’s live in this delusion that we don’t live in this perpetual confusion and there’s meaning to our lives”—is in this single. Rise Records’ release had simultaneously entranced returning followers and attracted new ones, both yearning for October 7th to roll around. And it did, but not without releasing two more singles (“Betrayed by the Game” and “Young Robot”).
At the start of October, the Mothership had arrived, and nothing is as good as the first listen to an album. While some songs are more memorable than others, there is no one song that should be skipped. For a band releasing its seventh album, that is a claim worth bragging about. Tim Feerick lays down the bass lines especially in “Inspire the Liars” that blend nicely with the rest of the band. Mingus and Swan are the traditional powerhouses of Dance Gavin Dance, and their performances in Mothership don’t disappoint. Jon Mess’ usual, but appreciated nonsensical lyrics are back, which can be seen in “Chocolate Jackalope:” “I couldn’t wait to tap into the brain of my cat/ And let him know that he’s my widdle baby meow meow boo.” Iconic.
Those with prior doubts about the previous Tides of Man vocalist will have trouble finding any, with Tilian’s executions definitively cementing his status as a DGD vocalist. It might be just me, but I’m really getting some Empire Theory-esque vibes, juxtaposing his growth as a musician with his roots from his previous band. “Exposed” may be all Tilian, giving Jon a breather, but it doesn’t detract from the rest of the album. Each clean singer has their own unique style: Jonny exuded soul, Kurt brought the rock, and before this album, one could almost 100% say that Tilian added pop, but he, along with the rest of the band, did a bang-up job weaving other genres into this release. Swan comes in with his rap in “Chocolate Jackalope,” and “Exposed” has sick R&B type airs about it.
Straying from the typical post-hardcore formula, their seventh album isn’t specifically characterized by anything like heavy metal djent or an intentional gap between cleans and uncleans, but rather by its ability to mash these things together into one tasty concoction (I’m feeling “pico de gallo”). The album adequately shows off the band’s breadth: core fans can feel right at home with “Philosopher King” while novice hopefuls can be exposed to the genre with “Exposed.” There truly is something for everyone.
Like “Variation”, the concluding track of Mothership, “Man of the Year” is daring. As the standout song on the album, “Man of the Year” sets the precedent for the eighth album, hinting at the future of the California-based post-hardcore band. The final song recounts in its five and a half minute long lifespan the remnants of a broken relationship. Its roller coaster of clean vocals followed by overwhelming instrumentals mirrors the story of the victim, “barely a man” and “alone in the end.” After this solemn realization, the hardcore breakdown and the electronica background parallel his chaotic thought process, now contemplating whether to pursue or merely pick up the pieces. It’s an amazing way to conclude an already noteworthy album. Hordes of Dance Gavin Dance fans will be headbanging to this album for months, even years, to come, myself included.