The way I listen to music, I have been told, is… odd. Oftentimes, I will find a single track that just grabs me and listen to nothing else for literal days. On rare occasions, I will fall in love with an entire album, and walk the streets of Seoul for four days exclusively to The Bunny The Bear’s The Way We Rust.
I genuinely enjoy that, the repeating of a great song over and over again until it turns into danceable white noise.
Which is what happens: I’m not studying or even attempting to retain these songs. Heck, there are songs I have listened to upwards of a thousand times that I still don’t know the words to – though in my defense, I listen to a lot of music where the lyrics can be difficult to decipher.
Hello, and welcome to The Week I Review. My name is The Kinda Guy Who Sits During Metal Shows, and today I’m talking about a band that has put together a number of songs that I have lost days to and also went to see perform approximately 59 hours before this video is getting posted: Dance Gavin Dance.
DGD, as the cool kids probably call them, was actually introduced to me by my girlfriend, which was a clarifying moment both musically and romantically. She played for me Chucky vs. the Giant Tortoise from their 2016 release Mothership, which she had developed an obsession of her own for. And right from the opening I was hooked.
The most immediately arresting thing isn’t the virtuosic instrumentalism but the incredible contrast between Tilian Pearson’s awesomely high notes and Jon Mess’s guttural growls. Two great tastes that truly taste great together.
Now, that’s a fairly common combination in post-hardcore, so much so that it could almost be seen as a defining characteristic of the genre… but no one does it better. And it’s really thanks to Pearson, because his vocal quality is unique in general but particularly with this kind of music.
A lot of clean vocalists in the genre are pretty interchangeable. That isn’t to say untalented, but there’s this raw intensity that kinda locks these folks into post-hardcore or something heavier. Because intense vocals like that practically require music that matches their viscerality. Even when the music gets lighter, it can never really leave the genre because of their voices.
Pearson, who took over in 2012 from less-unique-though-still-certainly-talented vocalists, is actually kind of the opposite. While he can do intensity, as evidenced on songs like Mothership’s “Inspire the Liars,” that’s not typical. Instead, he just sounds comfortable up on those crazy high notes, no strain or push – a little breathy, perhaps, but certainly not in a bad way. It’s a voice that could show up in any genre and stand out only for the right reasons.
Which is good, because their songs swing from heavy as hell to groovy as heck at a moment’s notice, and if you were to listen to the first minute of, say, Instant Gratifications “Death of a Strawberry,” you would just assume they were alt-rock. Only when Jon Mess comes 85 seconds into the track would you think something was different. Of course, this in direct contrast to the way they handle Chucky vs. the Giant Tortoise or Artificial Selection’s penultimate track, Bloodsucker, which opens with 30 seconds of intensity and screaming before Pearson comes in, but even here he comes in over this more intense music and *he* is the one who sounds out of place.
But that’s precisely why it works. Because his voice in that context is so unexpected but so objectively impressive that you’re caught off guard and immediately enamored. The way the two are integrated with or actively contrast against the melodies underneath is what makes the band so dynamic and fun to listen to.
And fun to see, too.
There was a video passed around on Twitter a couple weeks ago of a security guy at a Dance Gavin Dance show completely bewildered by Chucky vs. the Giant Tortoise; Pearson called him a Legend. https://twitter.com/logan_kale27/status/1113515228061270016
It’s a good reaction, one that makes sense if you’re being thrown into this sort of thing for the first time. Especially because of the joy with which it’s performed. One thing I like about their live show is the little electronic interludes that are played between tracks. Sometimes they’re like distorted versions of songs, while others it seems like something else entirely, but it keeps the energy up even while folks are changing instruments or telling New York how much they appreciate us all coming out.
And then, once they get into the songs, they *crush* it.
I have long preferred a quality live performance to a studio one, but not every band can really hack it live. Immediately before Dance Gavin Dance on Friday was Periphery, a band who I have now seen and been underwhelmed by twice. While I think Spencer Sotelo’s scream is cooler live, his clean vocals are too weak by comparison, and it’s frustrating.
On the other hand, both Pearson and Mess sound fantastic. Mess sounds exactly the same as he does on the record, while the minor dip from perfection on Pearson’s part is more than made up for by his performative energy.
It’s kinda funny, actually, how different the two singers are in performance as well as style. Mess just doesn’t move around much, and he absolutely locks in place while he’s screaming. Pearson, on the other hand, is more typical in that he constantly moves across the stage, whether he’s singing or not. Especially when he’s not, because he uses Mess’s verses as a time to practice some incredibly sensual body rolls. It’s all a little silly.
Much moreso if you actually look into what they’re saying –Mess in particular. Chucky vs The Giant Tortoise is a pretty good example, what with the line “Riding a rhino pico de gallo,” but I think the perfect verse is his first from Artificial Selection’s Midnight Crusade:
Brontosaurs fear of art is torn apart by making
Good mistakes and branching out he switch it up like baking
The more I tried to sleep it off the more I started thinking
I wanna live in mushroom park, do unrestricted shrinking
That’s hilarious. And Pearson? Well, he threatens to take your confetti away.
This ability to be light amidst all the angsty anger of their genre is so refreshing. A lot of their music deals with pretty heavy themes, but there’s a levity to their own production that really brings it all together. They don’t take things too seriously, and their work is so much better for it.
And that’s, ultimately, what it comes down to. Dance Gavin Dance feels like a band that hasn’t compromised. That they’re actually just a bunch of weird dudes who really like making weird music and have somehow found this huge success in the process. Like they’re getting away with something crazy. You listen to their music and you see them perform and it’s so clear how much they love what they’re doing. You just have to love it too.
Or, at least, I do.
Nine-Point-Three out of Ten