Dance Gavin Dance: ‘Instant Gratification’ Album Review

When a band reaches the seventh album of its career, it can be difficult to make new music sound new and interesting. Some explore different influences from other genres, while others refine their song-writing or technical abilities to add more depth. Historically, Dance Gavin Dance’s approach for keeping things fresh has been to regularly rotate its members. It’s a strategy that has been surprisingly effective to date; the band has been around for ten years and can credit no fewer than fifteen musicians for appearing on their records.

Despite the cyclical nature of the band’s personnel, every album thus far has sounded distinctively Dance Gavin Dance. This is testament to founders, and chief song-writers, Matt Mingus (drummer) and Will Swan (guitarist) who together provide the consistency and musical branding that makes the band unique. The symbiotic nature of the Swan/Mingus song-writing partnership is what makes the Dance Gavin Dance formula so effective, as their ability to continually evolve and refine the band’s core, signature sound, enables the constantly rotating contingent of supporting musicians to provide the garnishes, accents and flourishes on top. Instant Gratification is no exception to this, making it one of the most accomplished and cohesive albums of the band’s career.

Vocally, the line-up remains consistent with 2013’s Acceptance Speech, with Tilian Pearson returning for his second shift on clean vocals, alongside Dance Gavin Dance veteran Jon Mess, who provides the screams and shouts. True to the band’s formula however, the record features three guest guitarists, filling the vacancy left by Josh Benton. Zachary Garren of Strawberry Girls, Martin Bianchini of Secret Band and Aric Garcia of Hail the Sun all lend their strings to this album, keeping things interesting with their unique flavours and varied influences.

Since 2009’s Happiness, the clean vocal parts have sounded like an afterthought, added to the mix at the last minute, rather than being a considered part of the composition. Here though, Pearson’s vocals shine through as one of the stand-out performances, his delivery, range and tone far surpassing the previous record. Acceptance Speech was like Pearson’s first term in a brand new school: he was keen to impress a new set of friends by trying to prove how good he was, however his desire to showcase his personal abilities sometimes went beyond what the songs needed, creating a separation between the vocals and the music. Having now been accepted as one of the gang, Pearson allows his personality and influences to roam free on this record and the results are spectacular. Of all the Dance Gavin Dance vocalists to date, Pearson has the most pop-oriented style and he uses this to create memorable choruses and hook-laden verse sections throughout the album’s twelve tracks. His melodies are so well considered that not even the brilliantly executed screams of co-vocalist Jon Mess can dislodge them from your brain, leaving choruses trapped inside your head for days.

Jon Mess underwent a vocal transformation on Acceptance Speech; his screams sounded more refined and controlled than at any other stage in his career. He maintains that level throughout this record, providing a perfectly aggressive counter-balance to Pearson’s honeyed vocal licks, adding texture and depth to the heavy elements of the songs. The balance of clean and screamed vocals sound more harmonious than they have since the band’s 2006 debut Downtown Battle Mountain.

As expected from Will Swan, the guitar work on this album is fantastic. Swan has the ability to produce technically impressive, busy sounding guitar riffs that attract the ear’s attention, yet fit comfortably within the songs rather than intruding on the piece as a whole. Mingus mirrors this on the drums, offering complex, busy sounding drum parts that drive each song forward, but never detract from them. Mingus’ performance is similar here to his great work on the Secret Band album, particularly on heavier tracks such as “Shark Dad,” where his frantic pace and timing compliments the heavy guitar riffs. However, it’s in the moments where Mingus and Swan subside and pause for air, allowing Tim Feerick’s superb bass-work to shine through, that some of the album’s most memorable sections reside. The bass tone cuts through the mix brilliantly, adding warmth and texture, most notably during the funkier elements of the songs where it’s almost impossible for the listener to sit still. These variations in style spontaneously occur throughout the record, making each new song an exciting, rewarding experience.

This album reminds us just how much fun music can be. Whether it’s the impromptu dance beat part-way through “Shark Dad,” Mess’ random finale for “On the Run” or Swan’s rap cameo on “Eagle vs. Crows,” this album is full of moments that make you smile. This tongue-in-cheek quirkiness makes Instant Gratification a fun, infectious listen, but when you also consider the stellar musicianship that runs through its core, it becomes one of the best overall packages I’ve heard for some time. This is certainly the most cohesive album Dance Gavin Dance has produced since Happiness and it might just be the most accomplished since break-through record Downtown Battle Mountain put this band on the map almost ten years ago.