Dance Gavin Dance - Happiness
Record Label: Rise Records
Release Date: June 9, 2009
Dance Gavin Dance has gone through a torrent of member changes since the release of their first EP, Whatever I say is Royal Ocean, 3 years ago. And, with the departure of singer Johnny Craig after 2007’s Downtown Battle Mountain and screamer Jon Mess after 2008’s self-titled (or Death Star album), the future of Dance Gavin Dance seemed up in the air. Despite Death Star being a great album, many fans took a while to warm to new vocalist Kurt Travis due to a Craig-related hangover, and after Mess’ exodus it was possible that fans might turn their back on DGD once and for all. After all, Craig had prevented DBM from becoming just another post-hardcore record, and Mess’s lyrical capabilities have provided us with moments of hilarity and instances of deep reflection over the years. I mean money just can’t buy lyrics like “I'm back on top of a fucking cloud, the big bang is so goddamn loud”. But Craig/Mess drama and an endless list of former guitarists and bassists do nothing to slow Dance Gavin Dance down as they pick up right where their last effortleft off in true DGD style and it seems like they have finally found their right place with Happiness.
Happiness not only shows a progression in sound for the band but it also shows a huge step up in playing abilities. Tavis’s singing has improved ten fold on this album, as is shown in the opening track, "Tree Village". It starts off with a soft caressing of the ears-“What excuses do you make, Happiness is hard to find…”-and moves to an emotional yell, “February, it’s been so lonely…”, a side of Travis we haven’t seen since his previous band Five Minute Ride. And any doubts you may have had about Will Swan’s ability to scream will be immediately quashed, the second track "NASA" is a prime example of this. Heavier than your average DGD track, "NASA" starts off with a fast and funky riff, courtesy of Zach Garren, and abruptly jumps into Will’s brutal metalcore yelp. His scream is reminiscent of Jeff Moreira from Poison The Well and Mirrors era Misery Signals and does not disappoint. Although on the whole the album is fairly light on screaming, which may disappoint some fans, Swan does an excellent job of filling Mess’ shoes in terms of vocals and lyrics. The track ends with the chant “I’m down with brown town…(It’s only seconds away)”, which leads straight into the next track, surprisingly titled, "I’m Down With Brown Town", showing that the band still has that sense of humour which Mess portrayed so well.
Similar to the previous two tracks, "I’m Down With Brown Town" shows off DGD’s amazing instrumentation. They are often compared to The Fall of Troy, and the level of technicality on "Brown Town" demonstrates why. "Carl Barker", the next track, contains a wonderfully catchy chorus, in which Travis sings, Anthony Greenesque, “You used to say that we’d win the lottery some day, so I wouldn’t have to go away”. The only thing that slightly lets down these two tracks is the screaming. It’s not a testament against Will Swan’s talent, but rather it feels like the screaming parts have been added for the sake of satisfying Jon Mess fanboys. Hopefully this is something DGD can overcome in the future.
The self-titled had a brilliant selection of guest vocalists, including Chino Morino from Deftones and Matt Geise from Lower Definition; perhaps disappointingly in comparison, Happiness only features one. However, fellow Sacramento resident Tony Tataje from American Me, really makes the title track "Happiness". He screams the final few lines “Drowning in the lake, I only left her for a couple of seconds” which completes the song. It is also somewhat symbolic of the end of the first half of the album, as the second half shows off DGD’s more experimental side. The next track "Self-Trepanation" starts off with some weird, heavy distortion which transfers into chaotic guitars and a booming growl “One day I’ll tap your mind then I’ll know everything” it then calms down a little into a groovy chord progression and angsty singing. It’s the beginning of an exciting, new and brilliant DGD like we’ve never seen before.
Groove is definitely something that’s in abundance on this record, as is demonstrated in the next three tracks, "Strawberry Swisher Pt. 1", "Don’t Tell Dave" and S"trawberry Swisher Pt. 2". The Strawberry Swishers are much the same, telling a story of the morning after, and "Don’t Tell Dave" is about partying and having fun, which is apt because all three are danceable. The lack of screaming is a notable absence on these three and it certainly shows the bands efforts to escape the dreaded post-hardcore/screamo label. "Strawberry Swisher Pt. 2" is probably the strongest of the three; the vocals almost sound like Johnny Craig, but, they are all let down by cheesy lyrics, “Hey baby, I think I need some therapy...”.
Fortunately, the last track of the record makes up for the poor lyrical content of the previous three with none other than a cameo rap from Will Swan. That’s right. A rap. And it’s not bad either: on the contrary, it’s quite amazing. The song itself is fairly mediocre in comparison to the rest of the album, with a spindly guitar tone throughout which borders on annoying. Powder to the People also happens to have a political message and the song finishes on the line “See it, believe it, celebrity leadership.” It’s a great end to a great album. Hopefully it won’t get drowned in the flood of releases from generic post-hardcore records or cast aside by fans still crying over Johnny Craig, and will get the recognition it deserves as one of the best albums of 2009, and possibly one of the most innovative post-hardcore records since Relationship of Command.