Dance Gavin Dance – Happiness
Record Label: Rise Records
Release Date: June 9 2009
Happiness is my favorite Dance Gavin Dance record. I don’t know how else to start off this review than by being honest, and saying that, because that’s ultimately how I feel about their discography. No other record by them has really hit me the same way that Happiness has. Of course this is my opinion, and it’s all relative, but Happiness-era Dance Gavin Dance is the band at their best. Their sound was going in a wonderful direction, vocalist Kurt Travis was on for a second record, and it was also the first time that the lineup of the band seemed to actually be stable. It only lasted a couple of years, but even then, it was a quiet period for the band, because nothing bad was happening. A year prior, I had read about their self-titled record, and ultimately, downloaded it on iTunes. I wasn’t too familiar with the band whatsoever, but I had heard of the “drama’ between former vocalist Jonny Craig and everything that happened with him. I had never heard of Kurt Travis, and while I enjoyed the record for the most part, it didn’t really connect with me. Travis’ vocals are brilliant, and the band expanded on their soul, blues, and jazz fusion sound, but it fell short in some places, especially in the lyrical department. Former (but now current) harsh vocalist Jon Mess is known for writing nonsensical lyrics, and I’ve enjoyed them for the most part, but on the self-titled record, they were so hateful and vulgar, I couldn’t really get into it. That’s ultimately what drove me away from that, aside from Mess’ vocals themselves. I really couldn’t get into them at the time, and while he’s gotten better, I didn’t like them much. Fast forward a year later, and the band released Happiness, with Kurt Travis still on vocals, but guitarist Will Swan on harsh vocals. Everything was going for this band at the time, and it really showed. Happiness was a fantastic improvement compared to the self-titled (or known as The Death Star album) record, and almost everything worked on it. Aside from being a very concise listen (which was a huge problem I had with the self-titled, because it was so long and dragged on for awhile), it still managed to be engaging and unique. From the opening track “Tree Village” to the hip-hop influenced closing track “Powder to the People,” almost every song really hits in some way.
There are so many great moments on this album, it’s really hard to choose what moment to talk about first. I mentioned opening track “Tree Village,” and I suppose that’s the most logical choice to start off with. Aside from being a killer intro, the track itself is fantastic. Kurt Travis is on point, the guitarwork is absolutely stellar, and everything just works. This is one of the few tracks where everything really does work, and everything comes together nicely. In fact, the first half of this record is absolutely fantastic. “Tree Village,” “NASA,” and “I’m Down With Brown Town” is a great trio of tracks; they all show off Dance Gavin Dance’s potential, which I felt was a problem on their first couple LPs. The only downside to these tracks is that they do tend to sound rather similar, but they are memorable, nonetheless. They all feature unique hooks, and “NASA” even features a bit more screaming from guitarist Will Swan to make it stand out. The track also features the lyrics “I’m down with brown town” to foreshadow the next track, which I also enjoy. The record’s sound shifts slightly with fourth track “Carl Barker,” and this song is the longest, clocking in a bit over five minutes. While it deviates from the first three songs, it still really works, and it’s one of the best tracks on the record. It manages to combine a pop-like hook along with the progressive nature of the rest of the tracks on the record. It’s a very energetic track, to say the least. Most of the songs are, but this song combines everything that you, the listener, would be able to find on the record – post-hardcore, progressive-rock, and some pop-rock, even. It may be the longest song, but it’s also the most engaging. A few songs try to emulate that, such as “Don’t Tell Dave,” but it doesn’t work. That song in particular is one of the few songs that doesn’t feature any screaming, and instead, sounds more like a power-pop song, instead of Dance Gavin Dance. The lyrics are repetitive and rather lame, so the track is one of the few forgettable songs, but it is a “fun” song. It’s meant to be fun, laidback, even if it’s not as good as the rest of the album. Following “Carl Barker,” the title track is also one of my favorites. It returns to the form of the first the three tracks, but this is a very “huge” and atmospheric track.
Two of my other favorite songs from the record actually make a two-part song. Seventh and ninth tracks “Strawberry Swisher, Pt 1” and “Strawberry Swisher, Pt. 2” tell a bit of a story, but these songs are less aggressive and even have a rather R&B vibe to them, which I really like. Granted, the lyrics are also rather repetitive, especially in the first part, but they are really interesting tracks that show a different side of the band. The first part tells a story of Travis, begging a girl he had a one night stand to stay with him, but the second part shows the pair taking a sour turn, and Travis doesn’t want to talk to her, for whatever reason. As standalone songs, they work nicely, too, but together, they are enjoyable. Finally, last track “Powder to the People,” is the other “long” song on the record, and it has the same vibe as “Carl Barker,” this time, there’s one thing that’s different – Swan has a bit of a rap verse towards the end of the track, and it’s actually very entertaining. It’s a great end to the record, that’s for sure.
As a whole, the record really holds up. Almost every song is on point, and even the songs that aren’t, such as “Don’t Tell Dave,” and even the first part of “Strawberry Swisher,” there are parts of them that work, such as how “Don’t Tell Dave” is very fun and energetic, and the first part of “Strawberry Swisher” is very smooth and carries an R&B groove throughout it. It’s in these songs that the lyrics are also a bit simplistic and kind of boring, but despite that, the lyrics do hold up nicely throughout most of the record. There are some weird lines here and there, but former (now current again) screamer Jon Mess wrote a majority of the lyrics, and they didn’t make any coherent sense. For the most part, though, they do make sense, and they’re enjoyable. Aside from the couple of tracks I mentioned, this record is amazing. Even with those songs, this record still is damn near flawless. I’ve never said that about many records, but this record has everything I love – a great vocalist with a distinct voice and style, instrumentation that compliments said vocalist, as well as managing to remain unique and engaging, along with lyrics that are unique and/or intelligent. It may not be for everyone, but you can’t deny that this record is quite impressive, in terms of musicianship and vocal abilities. For someone like me, who enjoys progressive rock, and post-hardcore from time to time, I’m in musical heaven.