The line between accessibility and compositional prowess is exceedingly thin. Generally it seems that the more complicated and sophisticated music is, the less appealing it ends up being to the general public. Very few bands manage to truly balance these two concepts and show that they are not mutually exclusive. To meld technicality with pop appeal is an accomplishment all its own and can result in a very special album. On their sixth release, Acceptance Speech, progressive post-hardcore act Dance Gavin Dance has managed to create an album that blends the aforementioned elements, and they have a hell of a lot of fun doing it.
Acceptance Speech is the band’s first release with their new vocalist, Tilian Pearson (formerly of Tides of Man). Bassist Tim Feerick and guitarist Josh Benton join the band for the first time, as well. The Holy Trinity of Jon Mess on harsh vocals, Will Swan on guitar and Matt Mingus on drums is intact.
Each and every member of the band is at the height of their game on Acceptance Speech. Swan’s swirling, frenetic, acrobatic guitar noodling sounds as fresh and inspired as ever, and his compositional style has branched out into even more genres than in the past. On this album, he pulls from electronica, hip-hop and heavy metal. Every song showcases impressive playing and also mature restraint, which allows the vocals and percussion to shine. Percussionist Mingus somehow continues to pepper every song with interesting fills and has expanded his repertoire even further: Here he covers typical post-hardcore and punk ground but also throws in jazzy cymbal work, slower beats and even the blast beats usually reserved for extreme metal, all the while pumping away on the double bass pedal. Josh Benton’s bass holds the band together even when the wildness of the compositions threatens to throw the band out of control. When he rises to the front of the mix, his playing complements the sometimes jazzy feel of Dance Gavin Dance and adds an energetic bounce to the compositions overall.
The most divisive component of Dance Gavin Dance has always been the vocals. The band frequently changes singers, and Acceptance Speech is no different. Tilian Pearson’s voice reaches extremely high registers that may not be pleasing to every ear. His technical ability, however, is unquestionable; he hits notes across several octaves and sounds relaxed doing it. He fits comfortably into the lineup and sounds like a higher-pitched counterpart of his predecessor, the infamous Jonny Craig. The incomparable Jon Mess also gets ample representation on this album, and he sounds as angry as ever. His raspy mid-level scream permeates the album and keeps it from becoming too saccharine sweet and poppy at times. Mess sounds better than he ever has and continues the trend of improving with each album. He is truly a joy to listen to.
It would be impossible to discuss a Dance Gavin Dance album without mentioning the lyrics, which have always been quite odd. Mess’ lyrics often come off as the ramblings of a madman. Yet underneath the cryptic surface, biting, misanthropic satire rears its head. Pearson’s lyrics are nearly the exact opposite, touching on topics that would not be out of place on a pop record: sex, drugs and partying. These two very different schools of thought come across as a bit jarring even as they combine perfectly. It’s as if Mess represents the seedy reality of the world that lurks within all of us. Pearson plays the role of the falsely optimistic, hedonistic and materialistic façade that describes the current state of America so well.
Acceptance Speech covers lots of interesting musical territory. They traverse from their typical jazzy take on post-hardcore (“Jesus H. Macy,” “The Robot with Human Hair Part 4,” “Acceptance Speech”) to some of the heaviest material they have ever recorded (“Carve,” “Demo Team”) to ’80s thrash metal and 80s synthpop (“The Death of the Robot with Human Hair,” “The Jiggler”) to not-quite-pop (“Strawberry Swisher Part 3,” “Honey Revenge”).
The album’s eccentricities and technical mastery are all well and good, but the most important thing listeners will note is how catchy every song is. Even the screaming will worm its way into the listener’s ear. The pop sensibilities and the interesting jaunts each track takes will keep the listener engaged and dissecting each song for hundreds of plays to come. The album is just fun, an element that often gets overlooked in heavier genres of music.
The album is not entirely perfect. In keeping with the poppiness of the album, Matt Malpass’s production puts stressed emphasis and effects on Pearson’s vocals. This has the negative effect of sometimes hiding the brilliant guitar work underneath. The album sounds overproduced from beginning to end, and a more organic production would really have made this album shine.
Acceptance Speech may be the most fun you will have listening to music this year. It’s a great introduction to the sometimes intimidating world of heavier music. The album is currently streaming on YouTube, so give it a listen. Do your ears a favor: move outside the box the radio has built and try not to bob your head and sing along to every track on here.
4.5 out of 5 stars