It’s very hard to ignore Dance Gavin Dance. Even if you can’t stand their unique blend of post-hardcore and math rock, the Sacramento five-piece seem to make waves with every release that you just can’t avoid. They’ve undergone a number of line-up changes, initially having formed with the infamous Jonny Craig on vocals, until he was replaced by current frontman Tilian Pearson in 2012.
In total, they’ve had a whopping fifteen members since their conception – in fact, guitarist Will Swan and drummer Matt Mingus are the only members to have played on every Dance Gavin Dance release. Still, they seem set on this line-up for now at least, and they’re back with a new record in ‘Artificial Selection’ to prove this formula is worth sticking to.
It wouldn’t be a Dance Gavin Dance record without a robot reference, so opener ‘Son Of Robot’ comes as no surprise, with its twinkly opening abruptly cut short by screams from Jon Mess. Single ‘Midnight Crusade’ is poppy and euphoric with one hell of a hook, and Pearson‘s trademark crooning is silkier and more polished than it’s ever been.
Of course, there’s abstract, absurd lyrics aplenty, as per usual: “Brontosaurs fear of art is torn apart by making good mistakes and branching out he switch it up like baking”. ‘Count Bassy’ has a classic Dance Gavin Dance sound, sounding like it could be a long lost cousin of ‘Young Robot’ from 2016 offering, ‘Mothership’.
Things get a little less exciting in the middle of the record, with the likes of ‘The Rattler’ and ‘Slouch’, neither of which are particularly memorable. There’s a change of tack in the form of ‘Shelf Life’, which slows down the tempo to a melancholic sway, and features the band’s former vocalist Kurt Travis whose vocals mesh effortlessly with Pearson‘s.
Towards the end of the record comes ‘Gospel Burnout’, a shimmering fusion of prog rhythms and post-hardcore riffs, as well as the epic ‘Evaporate’, which feels like an amalgamation of elements taken from every Dance Gavin Dance record so far.
One thing that’s different about this album is that it’ll likely take a few listens to scratch the surface before finding the gold underneath; there’s no instant classics like ‘We Own The Night’ or ‘Chucky Vs. The Giant Tortoise’. But, if you’re willing to persevere with it, there’s definitely some gems to be found. The production is nothing short of stunning, and Pearson turns in the vocal performance of his career.
When Dance Gavin Dance are good, they’re phenomenal, and when they’re bad, they’re not even really bad, just a bit dull. This is undeniably their most daring and diverse record yet, and you can’t fault their willingness to experiment. They’ve always been a bit Marmite, and if you never liked them in the first place, this album is unlikely to change your mind. If you’re a fan, there’s enough here to keep you satiated, though it might not be what you’d hoped for. And if you’re just getting started with them, don’t write this record off too quick – there’s more here than meets the eye.