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Ocean and the Sun

December 9, 2014

One album removed from Lover, the Lord Has Left Us, The Sound of Animals Fighting have a ‘kind of new/kind of old’ line-up and sound. The first noticeable difference is the absence of Craig Owens (Chiodos) from the band. Granted he made solid contributions occasionally, the band is much better off. In fact, there’s a drastic difference in vocal quality (for the better) from The Sound of Animals Fighting’s latest work The Ocean and the Sun as compared to Lover, the Lord Has Left Us. The second and final difference is the overall sound and songwriting. They managed to mingle the roots of the progressive-rock edge thatTiger & the Duke had and incorporate the experimental ideas that have been floating around all along, but finally executed well with more of a relaxing undertone. The collective notion of these ideas just might be worth getting excited about.

Skipping all of the foreplay, it’s easy to say that the first seven songs of The Ocean and the Sun are nothing short of incredible. The slow progressions of “The Ocean and the Sun.” and “I, Swan” remind everyone that they are not regressing completely to their debut Tiger & the Duke, but rather expanding their sound further than ever before. Anthony Green and Matt Embree’s vocals are remarkable as ever (see: “I, Swan” and “Cellophane”). In addition, the array of instruments utilized creates gorgeous landscapes that make a grown man blush. However, it’s hard to take away the fact that The Sound of Animals Fighting are still distinguished progressive-rock songwriters. “Another Leather Lung” and the centerpiece of the album “The Heraldic Beak Of The Manufacturer’s Medallion,” craftily combines the elements that a slew of bands long for in progressive rock by knowing the limitations to take guitar riffs and bridges without becoming drawn-out and tiring. But with the successes found so far, there are a few letdowns to ensue.

The Ocean and the Sun somewhat squanders from that point on, losing some direction and focus. That is not to say that the latter chunk of the album is necessarily bad, but the identity of the album becomes cluttered. While tracks like “Chinese New Year” and “Ahab” are interesting interlude pieces, the tracks overall sound does not mesh with the rest of the album. Another mystery is “Uzbekistan” placement on the album. “Uzbekistan” is a spacey experimental track switching between artificial and natural drumbeats that I’ve grown to enjoy, but there is seemingly no place for it on the album. A track that does fit however is “Blessings Be Yours Mister V,” which features Rx Bandits frontman Matt Embree on vocals, turns out to be one of more captivating and awe-inspiring tracks along with the album’s eclectic closer, “On The Occasion Of Wet Snow.” Both tracks pull the emotion and artistic visions that make The Ocean and the Sun so fragile and delicate, yet outright enjoyable.

The Sound of Animals Fighting will continue to change and evolve into their idea of what music ought to be. The Ocean and the Sun is another conceptual chapter in their career with no signs of slowing down their objective. They will never recapture the sound of Tiger & the Duke, nor would I want them to after a hybrid record such as this. After all, their sound is more promising than ever and they are almost ‘there.’ For now, The Ocean and the Sun will do just fine.

Top 5 Tracks

1: The Ocean & the Sun

2: I, the Swan

3: Cellophane

4: Uzbekistan

5: The Heraldic Beak of the Manufacturers Medallion

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No Place

Between the bongos and synthesized sine waves, amidst the pummeling percussion and atmospheric torrent that rains down on No Place, it becomes clear– this is the most composed A Lot Like Birds has ever been. On first impression, it appears the post-hardcore troupe is exhausting each and every bell and whistle to make its third album appear as dynamic as it can. It’s also true that No Place will drastically change the group’s fanbase because of the record’s sheer ambition. While Plan B was adventurous to a T, it lacked the instrumental congruity required to really send its message home. And A Lot Like Birds got things done on Conversation Piece, but the urgency of the band’s music had been all but snuffed out. In this sense, No Place is a cherry-picking of the most vibrant traits of one talented band’s discography.

Opposite to A Lot Like Birds’ most recent direction, No Place doesn’t showcase the group’s instrumental talent– it’s all about the album’s theme this time around. First off, yes, there’s a theme here– screamer Cory Lockwood sums it up best in single “Kuroi Ledge”, where he shouts “Is there some place I belong? Is there any place to call a home?” All of No Placewas written exclusively to set forth these ideas of home, and about how in just a fragment of a second, the safest house can transform into a wrecking ground. Each song is meant to represent a different room in a house, something the bathroom-led video for “Next to Ungodliness” wears on its sleeve. It’s music built around a premise, art devised for a message that’s sometimes alarming. The music here is even more grim, though– it’s dissonant, chaotic and downright concerning. For starters, guitarist Michael Franzino chooses the most curious chord changes through the record. The album’s melodies are about indecipherable at times as a result, which contributes to this feeling of being lost in a place that feels so familiar. We know A Lot Like Birds by now, and this music is certainly theirs, but it’s so unlike them that it’s jarring. Thankfully, when No Place feels too constricting, the album cuts back and takes a breather. If it weren’t for its interludes, it’d be a hell of a lot easier to lose one’s place in the panoptic journey at hand.

Instead of looking to playful modern post-hardcore for its influences like Conversation Piecedid, this album goes a bit further back. The most obvious comparison to make, and the one that (surprisingly!) hasn’t been made yet, is that No Place sounds a hell of a lot like the early Mars Volta. These songs are long, riddled with absurd time signatures, and carry Latin influence on their collective sleeve, especially in the diverse rhythm section at hand. The core of “No Nature” practically screams this fact, via the spell-binding grooves crafted by drummer Joe Arrington and bassist Michael Littlefield. Singer Kurt Travis also takes cues from Cedric Bixler-Zavala throughout the record, wailing in the chaos and crooning in the subdued moments. Never is it more evident than in No Place’s centerpiece, “Connector”– listen to the song at 3:41, and tell me that isn’t an EXACT vocal melody The Mars Volta frontman has utilized at some point in his career. Now, every band has to look to others for its stylistic changes– in this way, it doesn’t bother me that The Mars Volta influence is so clear on the record. More bands could use The Mars Volta’s spirit, and besides, there’s an adage somewhere that suggests the most effective way to become the best is to ape those who’ve earned that title already.

There’s more to No Place’s new stylings than the recently-defunct, most celebrated progressive rock group, though. Other, more recent bands also seem to have shaped this record– I hear Jordan Dreyer’s contributions to La Dispute in Cory Lockwood’s newfound affinity for spoken-word, and surprisingly enough, atmospheric tracks like “Hand Over Mouth, Over and Over” recall the more personable days of post-rock group Maybeshewill. This wide scope of imprints on No Place makes the record function more as an aggregator of different musical genres, but that all have one thing in common– sentimentality. This record is emotional beyond repair, whether building up walls through shape-shifters of tunes like “Recluse”, or retracting them gracefully like the warm and marvelous “Hand Over Mouth, Over and Over”. And that’s the pivotal thing about No Place, that it’s necessary for A Lot Like Birds to release this because it’s a message they’ve been wanting to share for the longest time. And yes, critics will have the easiest time slamming the record because its fears are on its sleeve, and those fears sometimes come off as a little callow. But I’ll take that any day over music that exists to exist, to tunes that are as needless to their creator as they are to the listener. No Place is bleak, incongruent, and more importantly, human.

Top 5 Tracks:

1: Kuroi Ledge

2: Connector

3: Next To Ungodliness

4: No Nurture

5: No Nature

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Conversation Piece

The idea of change is initially an exciting prospect, but after the dust settles it’s rather disquieting. When orienting yourself with a particular idea over time, having it snatched away in an instant is an experience that can leave you feeling numb. It truly takes guts to step away from the calming comfort of staying true to what comes most instinctually, especially when the ground under your feet has shifted vastly. A Lot Like Birds know this phenomenon quite well; the process of shuffling through vocalists doesn’t quite leave as many constants as, say, the departure of a bassist. After all, the vocals of a band serve as more than a mere piece to the conceptual puzzle they work towards as a unit. It’s the pinnacle of ideas spewing directly from their minds, a “cutting of the middleman”, so to speak, which allows music to be more relatable to us, to mean much more emotionally.

Noting this, the former Dance Gavin Dance vocalist, Kurt Travis, had a lot to live up to within this landmark release. Conveniently, Travis’ bands share a niche in the post-hardcore realm, so the biggest concern was actually balancing upon the delicate tightrope between preserving the original style found in A Lot Like Birds ’ earlier work and contributing to a broader musical palette, expanding the band’s potential. Their choice to let Kurt in was indeed a wise one, and in the long run contributes to the most exhilarating and entertaining release of 2011, and should most assuredly sate the hunger of those that have been itching for a good post-hardcore outing.

“Il était un fois” (translated to “once upon a time” in French), Conversation Piece’s opening line, portrays astutely the dynamic nature of the album’s lyrics, and sets a fitting precedent for the rest of the album. The lyrics really do tell intriguing stories, for instance, by stringing off-kilter analogies that usually should be nowhere near each other “When learning how to crawl became a substitute for walking; biting my tongue a fair exchange for talking to myself”; telling a story through the most imaginative means possible. Kurt Travis’ collaboration with band mate Cory Lockwood over microphone duties complements the pandemonium of the music itself rather excellently, and when their voices soar above the music during the stirring choruses, the former problem the band had of finding competent vocals seems to all but have faded away. Inevitably, the gravelly vocals will be found irksome by some, but it honestly adds to the integrity of the album. And not only are the vocals incredible, but the music itself is incredibly heartfelt, honestly the most genuine display of post-hardcore in quite some time. And with blots of progressive sprinkled throughout the release, Conversation Piece has quite the apt title; this release is an enormously fascinating one, in that so many genres are melded together successfully. Not only are they magnificently pulled off; frankly, the band one-ups the specializations of many of its predecessors. The annoying-more-often-than-not vocals of Dance Gavin Dancefind a more fitting home on Conversation Piece, letting the music do the talking when necessary, because as enjoyable as the grittier vocals are, they are most potent in moderation and this is realized by the band. Also, the progressive styling of the album reminds one of Circa Survive ’s more experimental side, except actually used towards a goal and not just abused without cause. And my goodness, the swells of “Abbr.” convey emotion as effectively as any of the greatest post-rock artists. What terrain can’t Conversation Piece cover?

These gentlemen are just immeasurably endowed, being able to accomplish within one album (and not even a particularly long one) what so many others have been striving for, from one album to the next. It would not be, by any stretch of the imagination, too much to claim that Conversation Piece serves as a definitive time capsule of the best that post-hardcore has had to offer throughout the years. With what is only their sophomore release, we can truly expect greatness from this group, as A Lot Like Birds are becoming more and more fundamental to the scene they belong to with every ounce of new material, and will indeed serve as a conversation piece for many years to come.

Top 5 Tracks:

1: Think Dirty Out Loud

2: Vanity’s Fair

3: Truly Random code

4: Sesame Street Is No Place For Me

5: Orange Time Machines Care

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Wake

It’s been two years since the last release from Hail the Sun and the wait has been well worth it. After gaining tons of hype from their first two releases the leaders of the progressive post-hardcore movement show that they can play about more than the usual relationship drama that bogs down the Scene.

Between 2012’s Elephantitis EP and Wake the lead singer and drummer Donovan Melero founded and sang in the post-hardcore supergroup Sianvar. While I personally felt that overall the album was very weak for such a talented group of individuals one thing could not be denied: Donovan’s vocal and lyrical skill skyrocketed from the experience. Wake shows off Donovan’s new talent superbly with incredibly powerful delivery of the most climactic lines (“Black Serotonin!”) and with some very humorous lines reminiscent of their work on Pow! Right in the Kisser (“I taste the asphalt on my tongue!”). On Elephantitis the band seemed destined to go down the path of many other bands and only sing about their ex-girlfriends but that seems to have been thankfully curbed. On Wake the subject matter of the day includes police brutality, stigmatization, religion (or the lack thereof), and of course, death. This isn’t to say that all the relationship drama is gone, because it’s not, but even those tracks are now fueled more by the emotion of the instruments than by the lyrical content.

Speaking of which, the instrumentation has gone up a whole nother notch. The drumming is very deep and vivid. While the tempo has been slowed down a bit the complexity has increased and the playing feels much more frenetic while keeping a very rhythmic beat at the same time. It has a much higher emphasis than it did on their previous releases. The bass guitar sounds powerful – something a bit unusual for a post-hardcore group. It matches up with the drumming perfectly and creates an incredibly deep and thick sound which perfectly matches the lyrical themes and serves as a stark contrast to the guitar play. Of course, the guitar play is still the main draw. Often opening a song with an infectious riff and then hiding it to bring it back later, the sound is downright addictive. The skill cap has increased as well and I can say without any hint of sarcasm that I think their lead guitarist is at the same level as Thomas Erak when it comes to their technical ability.

With all this there are a couple of duds: “Mourning Sickness” and “Hanging Revelation” are completely lacking in the progressive part of progressive post-hardcore. They’re simply boring tracks. While Donovan pulls through lyrically the band itself falters and it all seems to just be a constant piece of nothingness. Just plain uninteresting. That said, all 10 of the other songs are superb. Hail the Sun does not disappoint when it comes to this release. While the jokey and playful nature of their first two releases has been lost I really don’t find myself weeping for it because the new, serious Hail the Sun is so pleasurable to listen to.

These gentlemen are the future of the genre. If you haven’t been paying attention to them now is the time to really sit down and give them a listen. I have no doubt that they’ll be as big as Dance Gavin Dance and their other contemporaries in a few short years or even months. They have a bright future ahead and Wake is the next step towards that ultimate success.

Top 5 Tracks:

1: Cosmic Narcissism

2: Disappearing Syndrome

3: Black Serotonin

4: Missed Injections

5: Anti-Eulogy

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Acceptance Speach

One would have every reason to believe Dance Gavin Dance has always been, and will continue to be, the same group that released Downtown Battle Mountain only six years ago. Although there have been a few stylistic changes in the group’s general playbook– whether it be catchy melodies with Happiness, Jon Mess’s harsh vocals reaching near-aneurystic levels on Dance Gavin Dance, or DBM2 being one solid piece of wankery– the band’s gameplan has remained fairly predictable. And that’s OK, too. We spastic-post-hardcore fans don’t particularly need our favorites to reinvent the wheel. This is why groups like Dance Gavin Dance are so easy to like, because they’re reliable. If you liked the feel of these guys’ previous records, Acceptance Speech should follow suit, because it’s packed to the brim with much of the same from DGD: sturdy songwriting, silly lyrics and instrumental acrobatics.

And if you don’t care for the record, well, it would be understandable. After all, Dance Gavin Dance’s fanbase has always been irretrievably interested in who’s fronting the band, and whether or not said frontman is a good fit, etc. Given this, Acceptance Speech is easy to rag on because of the rather flat performance of its new lead singer, Tillian Pearson. However, I urge many of the vocalist’s detractors to go and give a spin to Tides of Man’s most recent album, so that they can hear what he’s capable of sounding like. He does a fantastic job on Dreamhouse, existing as the album’s guiding light in an otherwise homogeneous landscape. On Acceptance Speech, Pearson offers his insistent highly-pitched vocals as counterpart to the rather frantic nature of the album. And while the dichotomy works, it also grows a little tiring. But is it fair for us to place this blame exclusively on his shoulders?

While we can curse Pearson as much as we’d like for the fact that DGD’s music sounds crafted exclusively for the man’s falsetto croons, let’s consider who’s behind the helm of Dance Gavin Dance’s production duties this time around– or, rather, who isn’t. Widely esteemed producer Kris Crummett, the man behind the lucid mixes of the rest of DGD’s discography (and, shockingly enough, Pearson himself on Dreamhouse, is mysteriously absent this time, only providing the final mix to Acceptance Speech. In the production seat instead, curiously enough, is Matt Malpass, the man behind softer acts like Cute Is What We Aim For, Lydia and The Ready Set. The guy’s forte is with pop hooks, so should we really be surprised that upon producing this album, he would emphasize Pearson’s soaring vocals above the rest of the band?

For what it’s worth, Pearson does a great job with the cards he’s given on Acceptance Speech. Tunes like “Jesus H. Macy” and “Strawberry Swisher Pt. 3” have no problems finding their way into the band’s “best of” catalogue, and it has everything to do with Pearson’s commanding performance. He soars in a way none of Dance Gavin Dance’s previous vocalists could– that falsetto, man. It fits the songs at hand perfectly, and reminds me that Pearson was a great choice to front DGD. At the same time, though, let’s give the other guys credit. Harsh vocalist Jon Mess sounds fiercer than he ever has, guitarist Will Swan provides killer licks on the frets, once again, and Tim Feerick and Matt Mingus, bassist and drummer respectively, provide reliant-as-ever backbone for the rest of the musicians to work against. When the album gets heavier, it becomes apparent that Malpass is less comfortable in his zone of production, as Swan and Feerick get lost in the mix entirely — just listen to that heavy-ass section of “The Jiggler” — but when things are poppier, the group sounds great as always as a cohesive unit.

There are many things going on with Acceptance Speech. While it has its drawbacks in terms of production, Dance Gavin Dance sounds positively rejuvenated here. Despite all the controversies that have surrounded the group since its inception, regardless of the numerous line-up changes, and forgetting all the “Pt. 3”-and-“Pt. 4”-infested song titles onAcceptance Speech, the record manages to sound like a group that just got together. While every reason exists to denounce Dance Gavin Dance as a one-trick pony, I can’t help but appreciate the song and dance with which the band has always provided me.

Top 5 Tracks:

1: Death of the Robot With Human Hair

2: The Robot With Human Hair Pt. 4

3: Strawberry Swisher Pt. 3

4: Demo Team

5: Honey Revenge

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Downtown Battle Mountain 2

Ah, Downtown Battle Mountain II. I remember my first impressions of this album– browsing its highlights on Youtube when I was 17, and thinking “damn, this is sick— and then my more fleshed-out opinions of the release on my trip to San Diego this summer. I was delving into many of the modern post-hardcore acts I’d wanted to acquaint myself with for quite some time, and had binged on Happiness for, well, the entire summer. So upon hearing this record on more than a precursory basis, I found myself thinking one thing: doesn’t this feel a bit artificial? The recycled song name, the band lineup, even the cover art– these are all things we experienced back in 2007, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to that time period for Dance Gavin Dance. Dense albums like this require patience, though, and I’m thankful I gave it another chance, for Downtown Battle Mountain II is the most fun these guys have ever been.

These are songs that are meant to be all over the place, but they’re as well-written as they could be. The most helpful thing I can say in terms of describing this album’s sound is that it’s a wanky-post-hardcore record that has the same structuring as The Mars Volta’s The Bedlam In Goliath, in that it never lets up. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that can listen to this record in one sitting, because it’s an extinguishing of energy that lasts almost 43 minutes. But there’s nothing wrong with a record best played in short bursts– it’s cathartic, and those small moments of absorbing it can be the biggest mood-lifters.

Let’s not understate the importance of singer Jonny Craig’s presence on this record, though. I’m not going to go into its backstory, because about all of us know Craig reached the zenith of douchery with his time in Dance Gavin Dance. What’s more important to consider is how his burnt-out persona affects Downtown Battle Mountain II, how it occasionally bleeds onto the lyric sheet and spoils Craig’s pseudo-R&B croons into something sour. The most burning example is how, when “Blue Dream” comes to a close, I can’t help but cringe. The way Jonny Craig speaks to the girl over the phone, the snarling way he asks her “what color are your ***in’ eyes?”, it kills me. Of course, there’s *kind of* a reasoning to it– in the next track, the main chorus features the lyrics “But I’d hate to say no / when it comes to those beautiful blue eyes.” In that context, the recorded phone conversation makes sense– it adds an infinite degree of trashiness to Downtown Battle Mountain II, which feels a bit unwarranted on an album where lyrics don’t matter much. For heaven’s sake, Jon Mess makes an Elder Scrolls joke in “Privolously Poncheesied”: “You’ve got that ostrich beak that’s lowering your skill in sneak.” Damn it, Mess.

I’m certainly not arguing these moments shouldn’t exist. As with most albums, it’d be counterproductive for me to say the silly stuff should’ve been cut– they have to exist in order for the rest of the album to function the way it does. I’d even go so far as to argue they enrich the experience on Downtown Battle Mountain II, because I don’t have any desire to take these guys seriously. I don’t mind the classically bad raps in a few of the songs here, and it doesn’t bother me that on this record, guitarist Will Swan developed a fetish for wah pedals. That’s because these frills are as essential to the record as they are over-the-top.

Because of all the blatant bull*** in Dance Gavin Dance’s music, especially on this record, I think I’m expected to bypass any sort of analysis into such a fantastically silly band. I’ll argue a counterpoint, though: albums without obvious meaning can be interpreted in an incredibly personal way, as opposed to art made with a concrete purpose. Even though I know that Downtown Battle Mountain II was probably written on behalf of the jams at hand (and they’re pretty killer ones, too– listen to “Need Money” and you’ll hear what I mean,) and even if this album was a ploy for the band to capitalize on all its long-time fans, I don’t really mind. Even though I have every reason to denounce the group for an album with such obviously stilted origins, the music here makes me happy– there’s no truer way to sum it up. Maybe that’s the baseline of my love affair with this group, the fact that when I take my life too seriously, they’re willing to make an album that allows me to let loose.

Top 5 Tracks:

1: Heat Seeking Ghost of Sex

2: Spooks

3: Thug City

4: Pounce Bounce

5: Blue Dream

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Happiness

If somebody would have approached me in the winter of 2007, after I had learned of Johnny Craig’s departure from Dance Gavin Dance, and asked me if I thought DGD would be capable of producing a passable album without the aid of their trademark frontman, my answer would have been a resounding “Nay!”. Sure, a few of the instrumental aspects of the band were slightly better than those of their contemporaries, but Craig’s warbling vocals were really the only thing that saved Downtown Battle Mountain from becoming a samey, boring, snoozefest of an album. However, seemingly against all odds, the band really pulled together and released not only a passable album, but one that blew their debut out of the water in almost every department. The vocals of Kurt Travis were almost comparable to those of Craig, the instrumental work and songwriting had undergone some major renovations, and the band as a whole just sounded more focused than ever before. As surprising as the self titled was, with the subsequent announcement that the band would yet again be losing more members (screamer Jonathan Mess and bassist Eric Lodge to be specific), the future of the band was once again cast under a dark shadow.

Not only was the band going into their third full length sans another two members, but the band was heading into the studio a mere six months after the release of their self titled sophomore release, an act that made duplicating the quality of the self titled seem like a nearly insurmountable task, and surpassing it completely out of the realm of possibility. However, once again, the band has beaten the odds and put together an album that nearly puts it’s predecessor to shame. The often cringe-worthy lyrical content of the self titled is (almost) nowhere to be found here, the instrumental aspects have yet again made some pretty big strides in both technical proficiency and cohesiveness, and it seems as though Kurt Travis finally feels completely at home with DGD, as his vocal performances feel quite a bit more confident than on the self titled, where there were times that it seemed he was simply doing his best to imitate Craig.

Quite simply, Happiness is Dance Gavin Dance performing at their highest caliber yet. Firstly, the fairly catchy choruses present on previous releases have been revamped into almost overwhelmingly infectious passages. The track Don’t Tell Dave is a shining example of this, as the entire song is laden with danceable beats, infectious vocal melodies, and memorable one liners. In fact, it’s tracks like Don’t Tell Dave that really introduce a previously unexplored side of Dance Gavin Dance. A lot of the tracks on offer here carry with them a gleeful, carefree aesthetic, and the album is all the more infectious because of it. However, the album is much more than a simple, catchy, and carefree romp through modern post-hardcore. Songs like Tree Village and NASA display some highly technical fretwork from guitarists Will Swan and Zac Garren, not to mention some surprisingly frantic drumming from Matt Mingus. Don’t get the wrong idea though; Tree Village and NASA aren’t the only instrumentally impressive songs on the album. There are impressive instrumental performances scattered throughout the entire album, but they come in different forms than that of self indulgent noodling. Guitar effects are used in an impressively effective manner (see the odd pitch-shifted/envelope-filtered guitar line in the intro to Tree Villiage), the guitar interplay now includes the creation of interesting textures rather than focusing on harmonized noodly bits, and the rhythm section seems more focused on creating interesting beats than going all out with crazy drum fills (though there are a plethora to be found).

As previously mentioned, the lyrical content here is nowhere near as cringe-worthy as some of the content found on the self titled (see People You Know if you don’t know what I’m referring to), but there are still a few moments that bring to mind the phrase “swing and a miss”. Lines such as “Hey you! Where ya from? Nevermind just leave me alone”, and the bulk of the awkwardly pseudo-sexist subtext in Strawberry Swisher Pt. 1 are a few lyrical missteps that almost threaten to derail the momentum of the album, but thankfully they don’t end up doing so, due to the uncanny ability of Kurt Travis to deliver somewhat nonsensical lines in a way that’s fairly convincing. Another thing that manages to cover up a few shoddily put together lines is the replacement of Jonathan Mess’s wretching, overly phlegmy delivery with guitarist Will Swan’s rather impressive screaming. Where Mess’s vocal performances could often be grating, distracting, and fairly thin, Swan’s screams are rather full, throaty, and carry with them an almost commanding tone. The screams do have a little more of a “core”ish quality to them, yet they seem to fit more than Mess’s vocals more often than not.

After the loss of two more members, and a time period of a six months in which to write and record, Happiness should have been nothing more than a horribly rushed and incoherent mess of an album. Yet somehow, Dance Gavin Dance has once again beaten the odds and created a rather impressive album. Who knows, maybe it’s the seemingly constant loss of members that keeps the band constantly needing to prove themselves that has kept them from producing something disappointing.

Top 5 Tracks:

1: Carl Barker

2: Don’t tell Dave

3: Strawberry Swisher Pt. 1

4: Powder to the People

5: NASA

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Dance Gavin Dance (Self-titled)

To me, Dance Gavin Dance has always been a band that was musically decent (but not amazing), and vocally wonderful. Now some people may find Johnny Craig’s rather high pitched voice a little off putting, but you can’t deny that there has always been this ever present soulfulness to his voice. To me, Johnny Craig was what put Dance Gavin Dance above average. So now that Johnny has flown the proverbial coop (due to “extreme tensions” according to an interview), could Dance Gavin Dance continue without their trademark vocalist? The answer to that question, surprisingly enough, is yes.

Craig’s replacement, Kurt Travis, has a voice that is every bit as high as Craig’s, but sadly, it does lack a little bit of that soulful quality that Craig possessed. That being said, Travis’s voice is equally as impressive, soaring over the music with very impressive range and versatility, though sometimes it can seem like he is imitating Craig. They lyrics are a bit more clear than previously, though the themes they present are still somewhat abstract, and sometimes it seems as though Travis and Mess have written lyrics separately in some parts. Some will find this to be negative, others will like it, its really just a matter of preference.

So what did the band do to make up for the loss of Johnny Craig you ask? Well the instrumental section got a heck of a lot tighter and upped their game quite a bit. The guitar parts aren’t necessarily lightning fast, nor are they highly technical at all times, but they have developed an almost seamless way of playing off of each other, as demonstrated in The Robot With Human Hair Pt. 3. The guitar lines in the song are harmonized a good 75% (ish) of the song, and when they aren’t harmonizing, one of the guitars always seems to come up with just the right chords to compliment the lead.

The rhythm section is very tasteful, and while the drums and bass don’t usually stand out against the onslaught of guitar and vocal work, if you pay attention there is some interesting stuff going on. The drumming displays a hip-hop like flair in its rhythmic tendencies, and there are a fair share of technical fills on display. The bass can sometimes become a little drowned out, but is infinitely more present than on most modern recordings, and usually provides just the right amount of groove that is called for. Again, The Robot With Human Hair Pt. 3 is a great example of this.

Of all the songs on display here, there are no songs that really stick out as bad or even sub-par, there are just a few songs that fail to really jump out and grab the listener’s attention. One of the weakest songs on offer here is probably Caviar. Now don’t get me wrong, Caviar is not a bad song, it just doesn’t seem up to par with the rest of the material. Sure the song is different, displaying very attention grabbing harmonies (being that they are extremely non-harmonic) and a guest appearance by Chino Moreno. Maybe its just the fact that I personally am not a fan of Chino, but I really feel like his vocal contributions bring a perfectly fine song down quite a bit. The first part of the song is really fantastic, with the previously mentioned atonal harmonies and slowed down feel, but the song really starts dragging in the middle and doesn’t do a whole lot to really pick up towards the end until its almost to late. Two other songs feature guest vocals, (Rock Solid features Matt Geise of Lower Deffinition, and Uneasy Hearts Weigh The Most features Nic Newsham of Gatsby’s American Dream), and while the songs are just as good as the rest of the material here, the guest vocals just don’t feel like they fit.

Thankfully, the highlights far outweigh the lows, and songs like the previously mentioned Caviar, are few and far between. The album’s opener really kicks things off, sort of lulling you into a false sense of security with clean guitars and a soft melody, before the screams come in and the song really just blasts out of the speakers. The musical improvement is immediately noticeable as the guitars weave in and out in an almost dueling manner, and the drums smash away in a frenzy. The song is constantly upbeat and heavy at points, and its always nice to hear heaviness without breakdowns. There is no real formula that the songs follow, as some songs will have choruses and verses, others will have more abstract structure, and a few have pseudo-breakdowns or instrumental interludes, which makes for a very nice and varied listen. In short, the album never really gets repetitive or falls into a rut.

One thing Dance Gavin Dance has always excelled at is making music that is both highly melodic and intense, and there is no shortage of that here. The Robot With Human Hair Pt. 3 is very melodic and almost, dare I say, danceable to a certain degree, but it still maintains a high degree of intensity, utilizing the raspy screams to counterbalance the almost overwhelming sense of melody. Burning Down The Nicotine Armoire Pt. 2 also does a very good job at keeping the melody and intensity balanced. The only slight downside to the song is the line “I’m cutting myself with my own moroals, I never meant to write about you, the one contact that I loved so much”, but the rest of the song really makes up for it, as the band really pulls together and plays like a cohesive unit. The song takes a heavy turn after a nice little false stop in the middle, before the screaming comes in and basically slaps you in the face. One of the songs that is just plain intense would be People You Know. The song is screamed the whole way through and the lyrics are pretty intensely angry. The song closes with Mess screaming by himself for a good ten seconds, which really makes for a powerful closing to the song.

All things considered, it seems as though the loss of Johnny Craig, (along with the “extreme tensions”), seems to have helped to make the band work a lot better as a unit and the songwriting has greatly improved because of it. Kurt Travis is a very fitting replacement for Craig, possessing all the versatility and range that Craig did, though lacking a little bit of the dramatic flair.

Top 5 Tracks:

1:Uneasy Hearts Weigh the Most

2: Me and Zoloft Get Along Just Fine

3: Alex English

4: Rock Solid

5: The Robot With Human Hair Pt. 3

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Downtown Battle Mountain

Dance Gavin Dance is a post-hardcore band from Sacramento, California that formed in 2005. The band is known for their intricate guitar work, their cool song titles, their instrumental prowess, and on this album, the soaring clean vocals of Jonny Craig. Downtown Battle Mountain was the last album they recorded with Craig and guitarist Sean O’Sullivan. On this album, the guys really manage to perfect their sound they were developing on Whatever I Say Is Royal Ocean. The songs on this album have a lot more hooks and they are more coherent and thought out.

Their first effort, Whatever I Say Is Royal Ocean, showed that the group had potential to be something great but failed to really have many moments that truly stood out. Downtown Battle Mountain has a lot more screaming when compared to Whatever I Say Is Royal Ocean. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. I guess it depends if you like Jon Mess’s screaming. It’s not even really screaming, as a matter of fact, it is just a really harsh shout. I personally find he has made a bit of a niche for himself in this album and he fits quite well as his appearances on the album are more often hit than miss. A great example of Jon Mess doing a good job is in “Backwards Pumpkin Song”. I love how the song kicks off with him belting out “Sit down, call off the cavalry, I’m stealing the jewels, in a slow motion action replay”. It just sounds powerful. Overall, Jon Mess provides a yang to Jonny Craig’s yin for a great dual-vocal assault.

Jonny Craig is an outstanding vocalist to say the least. Some people consider him the only reason this album wasn’t a complete disaster. I on the other hand, disagree. Jonny Craig is just one of the positive colors that stands side by side with the expansive palette of dynamics this collection of songs possesses. Ah, but that is a debatable topic that is for another discussion. I really can’t name a song where Craig doesn’t provide an awesome performance. There are just so many vocal highlights in almost every song. I guess the ones that jumped out at me the fastest were “And I Told Them I Invented Times New Roman”, where he passionately delivers soothing melodies for the whole song. Also, the chorus of “Lemon Meringue Tie” is just outstanding when Craig sings “And I don’t know why, I don’t know why, I fight for you this way, Fight for you this way, Fight for you this way-ay-ay-ayyyyyy”.

Instrumentally, this album is top-notch for post-hardcore. The guitars and bass are usually very intricate (See “It’s Safe to Say You Dig the Backseat” and the soothing intro of “Open Your Eyes And Look North”). They accompany the emotions the songs are trying to deliver amazingly well (See “Lemon Meringue Tie”). I can’t really give a drumming highlight, but Matt Mingus does a pretty good job keeping the songs together and tight when needed and loosens up at times and provides a wide variety of beats and rhythms which rarely bore the listener. Although, the bass player only comes out and plays interesting bass lines around 35% of the time. He is a decent bass player and I would have liked to see more of his playing, but he did a good job as the genre isn’t really renowned for its spectacular bass playing.

There are only really a few negative things about this album. “Strawberry Andre” sticks out like a sore thumb. To be frank, it just sucks for the most part. It features a nice clean bridge, but is really just a boring track that I tend to skip when listening to DBM. Other nitpicky things include the “Untitled” intro which flows into “And I Told Them…” It’s kind of cool sounding and I like how it flows into the next track but it just kind of drags on for too long. Also, the last track, “12 Hours, 630 Miles”, is an acoustic track with just strumming and Jonny passionately singing. It has nice vocals, but it is kind of an average and boring way to end off the album and I think it could have served as a nice clean break in the middle of the album. It should have been a little shorter too. Lastly, and ironically, this album can to be a bit of a lyrical mess here and there. Jonathan Mess states at the end of “Lemon Meringue Tie”, and I quote: “Hey girl, you’re the best. I’m a sucker, maybe I should *** her now”.

Overall, this is an amazing album and a lot of these songs are great post-hardcore anthems. Just a few minor problems keep this record from being a classic. Since this is the last record to feature Jonny Craig, most fans of the band consider this their best record. While Craig is a great vocalist, there is so much more to Downtown Battle Mountain than Jonny Craig.

Top 5 Tracks:

1: Lemon Meringue Tie

2: And I Told Them I Invented Times New Roman

3: Turn Off the Lights, I’m Watching Back to the Future

4: Antlion

5: It’s Safe to Say You Dig the Backseat

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Tiger and the Duke

Tiger And The Duke was certainly an interesting approach at Progressive Rock. Though the music displayed the familiar characteristics of the genre, such as psychedelic ambiences and dextrous instrumental passages, it also exhibited a release of energetic intensity that reflected the Punk-influenced backgrounds of the band’s members. The Sound Of Animals Fighting, for those who are not already aware, was a group of musicians that were brought together by Rich Balling, which predominantly consisted of members from; Rx Bandits, Circa Survive, Finch, and Chiodos. Tiger And The Duke displayed a style of music that was much more abstract than their respective backgrounds, but it didn’t exactly takes us into unfamiliar territories. The music of the album expressed itself as a coalescence of the ambient textures found in Circa Survive with the more aggressive deliveries of acts like Finch and Chiodos.

For the most part, Tiger And The Duke was a truly mesmerizing performance, but it also projected minimal flaws that kept it from being a more enjoyable album. It was composed by 4 acts that consisted of orchestrated music, separated by instrumental interludes that often felt longer than they needed to be. The interludes induced a strenuous listen because they were nothing more than ambient noises that served no further purpose but to fill in time. But now, in this new reissue, they have been reincarnated with a much more harmonious touch. And though their newly reworked sound makes for a better listening experience, they still feel like an unnecessary component of the album. The musical acts have also been reworked, but with minor alterations. For example, in “Act I: Chasing Suns”, we find that the instrumental elements remain relatively the same, but the vocals display minimal differences in their deliveries.

But in it’s latter section, we find that this reissue transcends past Tiger And The Duke, including remixes of tracks from their sophomore album, Lover, The Lord Has Left Us…. With several of them being reworked by Portugal. The Man. Their re-imagining of“Skullflower” is perhaps the highlight of this particular section of the album. It has been recreated with a decorative coating of psychedelic effects that make for a truly entrancing experience. We can really see the band having fun with these remixes as they explore numerous approaches. Experimenting with several musical styles such as the Electro-Pop rendition of “St. Broadrick, His Mistress, And The Blacksmith” to the atmospheric Dub incarnation of “The Heat”. This a pretty interesting reissue, and within it’s wide variety of content, has something for every fan of the band regardless of what particular album your most fond of.

Top 5 Tracks:

1: Act 2: All is Ash of the Light Shining Through it

2: Act 1: Chasing Suns

3: Act 3: Modulate Back to the Tonic

4: Act 4: You Don’t Need A Witness

5: N/A

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