The reformation of Dance Gavin Dance to their Downtown Battle Mountain days has been a buzzing story since the most recent turn of the revolving member door that is DGD. Kurt Travis? Out. Jonny Craig, Jon Mess and Eric Lodge? Back in. Realistically, all the band needed to do was tour on their usually referred “defining opus”, and then the path would be paved for the group’s recorded return in whatever they decided to do. But by gracing the fifth Dance Gavin Dance full-length with the sequel-inducing title of Downtown Battle Mountain II, the lovers (and haters) of this band when fanatical in what might could be a defining moment for the careers of Craig and company. On our return trip to the Mountain, we hear everything we loved about the original disc – mind-boggling guitar melodies, punching rhythmic assaults and the ever-polarizing vocal combating between Craig and Mess. But on the look back of our second journey through this manic maze of musicianship, it feels like there was less to remember in the long run. Downtown Battle Mountain II does everything it can to pull you in, and only fails when you attempt to pinpoint what exactly was going on during your journey. Simply put, this album lacks in creating enough high points to truly make things stand out, both on this album and in the Dance Gavin Dance catalog entirely.
Now, it should be said there are some really great things being done on this record, whether it be an improvement upon the prior installment or DGD’s previous record Happiness. All you haters that cringe at the sound of Craig’s Mariah Carey impersonations need only take a few moments to hear his vocals smoothed out much more than the slur-fest some consider DBM to be. On a similar note, Mess’ scream, which has been compared to the sound of dry heaving by some of my closest friends, sounds much sharper and digestible in terms of sound. It’ll be obvious by some of Mess’ lines that his zany lyricism is still intact (‘My destiny is calling me / It says Jon Mess you should own a gun’ and ‘I’m a horrible shot / I tie horrible knots’ come to mind), and with both vocalists sounding much better, the vocal duo is at the top of the mountain this time around.
Musically, this album lives and dies by the eclectic nature of the arrangements. Will Swan’s guitar work is top-fucking-notch. Whether it is the catchy triples against wahhing melodies opening “Pounce Bounce” or the unrelenting grinding of “Swan Soup”, the dude can shred it with the best of them. For those needing to fill the void left by The Fall of Troy breaking up, your fix is right here. Lodge’s bass lines provide beef throughout this record, humming with a razor-sharp precision that sneaks in like a kick in the face while you are mesmerized by Swan’s fancy fretwork. Meanwhile, Matt Mingus is as slick and nimble as ever on the drums, fluxing between speedy bursts of fills and structured beats to compliment the off-kilter nature of tracks like “Elder Goose”. As far as musicianship goes, Dance Gavin Dance has never sounded better.
But why then should this album only get three-and-a-half stars? Why not four? Or even five? Downtown Battle Mountain II simply just doesn’t measure up to its predecessor in terms of creating an overall great album. Sure, there are a good handful of what could be called the musical equivalent of a Kodak moment on this album. Off hand, there’s the beginning of “Pounce Bounce”, the symphonic jamming of “Need Money” and even the melodic interweaving of screams against driving guitars in the middle of “Heat Seeking Ghost of Sex”. Yet, even in the basking of these apexes in this record, they can’t hold a candle to the unmistakable gold-striking heard in DBM. Intro to “Lemon Meringue Tie”. Breakdown in “Strawberry Andre”. The punching sections of “Surprise! I’m From Cuba, Everyone Has a Brain”. And those are without even having to listen to that album to find them. Even after a dozen or so listens, DBM II just doesn’t hold the lasting power it could have if they’d maybe not rushed into recording this album. Besides, too much of “Elder Goose” sounds like a Emarosa b-side, which is eerily unnerving, while “Blue Dream” turns a smooth prog-blues jam into a fucking disco session. You can do better than that guys, and you know it. Maybe circumstances might say otherwise, but you’ve gotta think they’ve got something a little more enticing to offer than what you end up taking away from this album. Yeah, it’s good, but will it still be as good a few months from now when DGD is playing on the mid-sized stage at Warped Tour? I don’t think it will.
Downtown Battle Mountain II is sure to please fans dying to hear the cornerstones of the Dance Gavin Dance sound reunited for another round of face-melting guitars, hammering drums and trademark vocals. What we get is a solid collection of jams and our wish for the reunion granted. It’s a (re)new(ed) era of DGD, and I’m sure as these guys are concerned, we’re just along for the ride they decide to take us on.
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
Dance Gavin Dance is an American post-hardcore/progressive rock band formed in Sacramento, California in 2005. It was formed out of the dissolution of several other bands including Farewell Unknown, Ghost Runner on Third, and Five Minute Ride.
November 14, 2006 - Whatever I Say Is Royal Ocean
May 15, 2007 - Downtown Battle Mountain
August 19, 2008 - Dance Gavin Dance
June 9, 2009 - Happiness.
All of Dance Gavin Dance's records have been released on Rise Records.... read more