Review: Dance Gavin Dance – ‘Artificial Selection’
Not many artists can consistently produce content of such consistently high quality as Sacramento’s Dance Gavin Dance. Just over a decade into their career, the five-piece has just released their eighth album in just over eleven years, and not a single release of theirs has received less than stellar marks. There really is no alternative band quite like DGD in terms of output (though many try to mimic them sonically). Now on their fourth record (in just over four years) since the induction of lead vocalist Tilian Pearson, DGD continues to operate like a well-oiled machine on Artificial Selection.
The record opens with perhaps the best one-two punch in their entire discography with “Son of Robot” and “Midnight Crusade,” each with ear worming vocal hooks and progressive yet poppy guitar work. Guitarist Will Swan is the foundation for Dance Gavin Dance’s eclectic sound, and his signature colorful melodies power each of the aforementioned singles and can be found all throughout the album. Likewise, the ever-strange, often nonsensical lyricism of Jon Mess also graces most of the record, but its almost instantly noticeable that Mess takes a back seat to Tilian Pearson. Soaring over “Son of Robot,” Tilian’s gorgeous smoky clean vocals have never sounded better, and this continues into “Midnight Crusade,” which features Pearson’s best chorus since joining the group in 2013. “Suspended in this Disaster” is another highlight, albeit on the softer end of the spectrum, in which the R&B influences present on nearly all DGD releases comes to the forefront in both vocal hooks and the lead guitar. “Care,” “Count Bassy,” “Gospel Burnout” and “Flash” solidify Artificial Selection as Tilian’s best performance as well as his most well written work. Where he previously simply complimented the music, here his choruses and vocal hooks in general are much sharper and infectious.
At fourteen tracks, Artificial Selection is very lengthy and definitely does have its missteps and filler. “The Rattler” is the album’s heaviest song, but simply doesn’t stand out amongst a tracklist of potential singles. In fact, it reinforces the idea that more vocals from Tilian Pearson is not a bad thing. Mess has always been a pillar of the DGD sound, but his monotone yells are much easier to digest in shorter spurts rather than dominating a track’s runtime. “Slouch,” despite a groovy bassline, and “Hair Song” also feel more like B-sides and, without them, the album would be a bit more streamlined.
The band plays the nostalgia card heavily on “Shelf Life,” bringing former vocalist Kurt Travis back to the fold to compliment Mess and Pearson, and dive head first into pop-punk on “Story of My Bros,” another standout track. All the influences and characteristics of Artificial Selection are bookended fittingly by “Evaporate.” Featuring touring (and often session) guitarist Andrew Wells (of Will Swan’s label-signee Eidola), “Evaporate” includes several lyrical callbacks to previous albums. With the ominous title, nostalgic call backs, and some finite-sounding lyrics (“never coming back”), is “Evaporate” a swan song of sorts? Or rather perhaps an ode to growth and change in their future?
While Artificial Selection will certainly please the massive cult following Dance Gavin Dance have accumulated over the years, it doesn’t branch at all from their trademark sound. On one hand, there’s obviously nothing wrong with this: new listeners will always be attracted by their widespread acclaim (if not for their insane album art and wacky, nonsensical song titles) and longtime fans will surely stick around. But on the other, the more critical standpoint, it’s also easy to dismiss Artificial Selection as just another DGD record. Any track found here could be swapped with a cut from Mothership (or most of their other releases) and there’d be zero sonic irregularity. There’s no need to knock their formula for success, however it would just be interesting to see these talented individuals bring new influences to the table and expand upon their already experimental sound.
The consistent quality of their music is impressive in itself, but surely the quantity is even more mind boggling. This album is fourteen tracks and just over a year removed from its predecessor. How does Swan come up with enough fresh guitar licks to produce an album of this length so quickly? How does a band spend a majority of their time on the road, yet churn out albums that feel like years of work has gone into them? Timetable aside, Artificial Selection is no slouch (pun intended), and certainly a solid addition to the Dance Gavin Dance discography. Consistent as ever, it further cements their legacy as post-hardcore legends.
Watch the wacky video for lead single “Midnight Crusade,” below, and let us know what you think of Artificial Selection!