Dance Gavin Dance Focus on Catchy Hooks With 'Artificial Selection' (Review)
Dance Gavin Dance has had a tumultuous history, bouncing between no fewer than three singers along with other minor lineup changes, including longtime screaming vocalist Jon Mess leaving (briefly) and returning. When Tillian Pearson took over, the thought that was surely on the minds of Dance Gavin Dance fans was "I wonder how long this one will last?" And yet, here we are four albums later, and not only is Tillian Pearson still the vocalist, but the band has produced some of its strongest material. Artificial Selection continues this trend, and while it doesn't exactly innovate or take risks, fans of Dance Gavin Dance will undoubtedly find a lot to love.
In a truly refreshing move considering how short some recent albums by alternative and metal bands have been, this album contains 14 full songs and runs for almost a full hour. Opening with the song "Son of Robot" is a smart choice. The song leads with soft guitars before launching into a harsh flurry of vocals by Jon Mess. Almost as if introducing each band member, we get a stand out drum fill followed by a bridge by Tillian, and finally, the rest of the band chiming in with some frenetic, technical guitar work. Between this opening track, "Midnight Crusade" and standout single, "Care", Dance Gavin Dance has crafted some of the most finely tuned songs, with catchy choruses that will be stuck in your head long after you make it through the first run through the record.
Although not new, a welcome recurring element that makes it onto this album is the funk and groove elements noticeable not only in the bass and guitar riffs, but also in the flow of Tillian's vocals. "Suspended in This Disaster," "Count Bassy" and "Slouch" introduce bass lines and riffs that channel these distinct elements, and help break up the songs on the album that hang more on Tiilian's pop vocals. While Dance Gavin Dance's previous album found a nice balance between the heavy and frenetic screaming of Jon Mess and Tillian's smooth, highly-produced vocals, this album seems to give a slight edge to Tillian, at least in terms of parts that stand out. Jon Mess's parts can, at times, feel like a way of breaking up Tillian's vocals and not their own distinct additions. Still, songs like "The Rattler" give Jon Mess a chance to shine.
Admittedly, the songs start to get a little less interesting as the album progresses, including songs like "Story of My Bros," a weird divergence into straight up pop-punk/easycore. The true success of the album's latter half is in its callbacks to DGD's past. "Shelf Life" brings Kurt Travis, DGD's second vocalist, to trade verses with Tillian, producing a satisfying melodic track and the final song, "Evaporate," closes with lyrics ripped straight from "Me and Zoloft Get Along Just Fine" sure to inspire feelings of nostalgia. The broad array of styles explored on this album, along with these inclusions, give Artificial Selection a reflective quality, almost as if the band is looking back at its history and creating an album that sums up everything they are.
The weakest part of Artificial Selection, and this should come as no surprise to fans, is the lyrics. While the hooks of songs are memorable, there is not a lot of depth to anything produced by either Tillian or Jon, and I don't think any lines are worth any deep dives. In this way, and in the way that this album sticks to familiar ground, Artificial Selection is one of the least risky albums produced by DGD. But honestly? With choruses that catchy and songs that well-produced, its hard to really care.