Album Review: Dance Gavin Dance - Afterburner
If there has ever been a more defining and prominent sound within the scene, it lingers within the essence of Dance Gavin Dance. Looking beyond an often tumultuous and rocky pathway to where they are now, Dance Gavin Dance’s fifteen-year-long journey has unmasked the true makings of a passionate, unique, and ever-learning band. Regardless of what is thrown at them, whether it be band life or an international pandemic, the success of the band has always been within their passionate and never-say-die nature. Making the brave decision to continue the release (a rare occurrence among these disastrous times), Dance Gavin Dance have not only overcome the adversities thrown at them but have asserted themselves as a band who is only getting stronger. Their new release, ‘Afterburner’, is a powerful, punchy album that is filled with just as much passion, integrity and uniqueness as the first DGD release, ultimately adding to the list of astonishing art established by this group. Lathered in their signature sound and of course, bathing in the house of Swancore, ‘Afterburner’ also successfully brings in new, unvisited sounds, adding to the slight quirk we all know and love. They say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”... but ‘Afterburner’ is proving anything but.
Track one, ‘Prisoner’ also led the multitude of singles to be released before the album. ‘Prisoner’ ultimately acted as the first taste of ‘Afterburner’, subconsciously providing glimpses into the framework, sounds and styles of the album to come. In more ways than one, this ardent single fulfilled its job perfectly. Paving the way for more experimentation in the album, this track juggles new sounds with skill, seamlessly binding together elements that others may find chaotic. Throughout their albums, this skill is certainly something to note. If these sounds and ideas were not placed in the hands of such a unique band, could they be handled and utilised in the same way? Over and over again, Dance Gavin Dance continues to go where others cannot. But each step away from this ‘normality’ always seems to end in something so desirable, such as an opening track like ‘Prisoner’. As far as introductions go, this track not only welcomes you but pushes you forward into the world of ‘Afterburner’ with eagerness.
The second track also provided some food for thought for fans, acting as another single and taste of what was to come. Upon its release ‘Lyrics Lie’ quickly became my favourite of the single releases, and continues to be one of my favourites from ‘Afterburner’. Immediately enticing the listener with a swift introduction of Tillian’s clean vocals, this track holds on, pulling you through the four-minute journey with pleasure. Holding one of the most flamboyant and catchy choruses, the track is of course balanced by the ever-prominent man, myth, Mess. Cooking up the perfect combination, it is evident to see why these two opposing vocalists create the perfect dynamic for Dance Gavin Dance, contributing greatly to the creation of excellent albums like this one. If there is anything to note from not only the singles but the album’s eternity, it would be the depth of the lyrical content. Lyricism is always something that has seemed to come naturally to this band, diving into the often absurd, existential and quirky sides of life with passion and understanding, However, it is something they are clearly always refining. ‘Lyrics Lie’ presents itself as a self-aware, satirical track; “Find my destiny written in sand/ And let it all go to my head”, “Now I'm all cultured and educated/ Quite qualified to be the one that made it”. Questioning the ever-growing social media culture and effect of false idols and influences, no topic seems off-limits within this album. This apathetic view on the world is refreshing, and it is these moments of realisation through music that can spark the biggest discussions. ‘Lyrics Lie’ is a track that unveils layer after layer, and at the heart of it, reveals the very nature of Dance Gavin Dance themselves; individualism. ‘Lyrics Lie’ is certainly one of my favourite songs off the album!
Track three is ‘Calentamiento Global’. Despite being one of the most uncultured individuals to walk the planet, I could indeed tell this song was in Spanish. Little did I know, this dash of something new was going to set up one of the most intriguing, powerful and passionate songs on ‘Afterburner’. Translating to ‘global warming’, this song follows a story of “history repeating itself”. The powerful fusion of instrumentals with an exciting element of language difference for many listeners creates so much intrigue amidst the track. Play after play, the excitement of this song did not vanish. It’s uplifting in its own special way, and provides a hearty dose of all the loved elements of Dance Gavin Dance, just in a new way. ‘Calentamiento Global’ is truly a unique track, proving that the band that has mastered it all can always throw something new into the works.
Serving as the last pre-release single from the album, track four introduces ‘Three Wishes’. Taking a more mellow approach, this track offers something quite versatile to the album. Leaning towards the poppier side of things in regards to sound, the song disguises itself as an uplifting, groovy anthem. That is until the instrumentals are met with the jarring lyrics, creating that storm of juxtaposition that we all crave in a DGD tune. Surely they are the only band that can get you dancing to a fun, pure-sounding beat whilst “multiple stab wounds” is being repeatedly stated in the background. Now that’s talent! We’re certainly not learning about their “bizarre” nature now, but every so often it's strange to be reminded that sounds certainly do not equate to message, and that’s the beauty of music like this. Dance Gavin Dance has created an outpouring of emotions and ideas within ‘Three Wishes’, making it the masked and mysterious tune we didn’t know we needed.
‘One in a Million’ comes in as track five. Without a second of breathing room, this track is strong from the get-go, throwing both vocalists in within the seconds of starting. It’s this unexpected nature that serves as an enticement mechanism, not that this album wasn't exciting enough! The choppy yet refined nature of this song creates layers of depth, shifting from sound to sound to create something new to the makings of ‘Afterburner’. By the end of the track, ‘One in a Million’ turns into a funky, anthemic and uplifting song, adding to the list of dynamic sounding tracks on the album. DGD has always had a way with words and making people feel things, but ‘Afterburner’ has proved that sometimes sound can be just as powerful in creating unity through the feelings it creates. It was at this point, not even halfway through the album, I realised that something deeper within each of these tracks is contributing to ‘Afterburner’ being such a unique album. And that would be the mounds of passion, self-assuredness and individualism of the band at hand.
Following is track six, ‘Parody Catharsis’. Now, if you weren't already satisfied by the many twists and turns existing in this album, please allow the input of Will Swan to act as a cure. Adding to the already contrasting nature of both Tillian and Jon, Will’s introduction adds yet another unheard dimension to the album at hand. Fusing together, these three key figures create a track truly unheard of. Tillian’s piercing vocals slash through the rough vocals, only to be brought back down to earth by the brawny lyrics of Swan. This track is certainly something else but does not become overbearing in its many elements. Ultimately, ‘Parody Catharsis’ becomes a showcase of all that lies in the band, vocally and instrumentally. ‘Afterburner’ certainly abandons all creative rule books, experimenting with new sounds to create an unheard Dance Gavin Dance creation to be remembered.
Track seven revisits the last of the single quartet, ‘Strawberry’s Wake’. This track is undeniably powerful, bouncing from its contrasting clean vocals and screams to create a perfect dynamic within itself. There is a lot going on in this track, but everything marries together perfectly. There is an undeniable groove within the instrumentals that is still carried over to the grungier sides of the track. No matter how the song is presented, the same essence is portrayed through them all. This continuity is essential and is something that the band does seamlessly. As well as the song itself, the lyrics of Strawberry’s wake are just as strong; “Everybody doubts decisions when they're vulnerable/ Nobody's perfect, but everyone's searching, I'm sure”. Such a raw and somewhat internalised question really brings the track into a more personal focus, asking us too to join the search for the meaning that’s being craved for. Listening to songs like ‘Strawberry’s Wake’ tends to lead to a deeper experience than first thought, adding to the many dimensions that Dance Gavin Dance music holds. ‘Strawberry’s Wake’ and its internal search create an eye-opening track, backed up by an unmatched groove to lead you through the journey.
‘Born to Fail’ follows as track eight. Starting with a far more sinister and brutal vibe to its counterparts, this track is neatly tucked away amidst the depths of the album, only to launch a sneak attack upon the unsuspecting listener. This demanding tone is respectively met with one of the biggest dissing choruses to be heard; “Honestly, you've always known I'd prevail It's biology and you were born to fail”. Holding an angsty tone and message, this is a rare occurrence within this somewhat peppy and uplifting sounding album. But much like everything else, this burst of rage makes everything perfectly balanced. It’s interesting to see few tracks of this style but perhaps suggests the thoughts and attitudes of the band were in a more positive place upon the makings of this album. ‘Born to Fail’ is the necessary release of the bottled-up anger that has been absent from previous tracks, but still manages to do it in such a melodic and organised way. This too has become a personal favourite from ‘Afterburner’.
Adopting some of the angsty undertones of the previous track, ‘Parallels’ follows. Mess’ toned down and slowed up chorus becomes the standout of the track, creating a clear assertion of the fragments of anger that have been floating around from the beginning of this track. Although simpler than others, ‘Parallels’ is quite an enjoyable track, particularly for the pure showcasing of Mess and his vocal talents. This Mess dominated track provides a much-needed serve of the unclean, signature vocals all DGD fans crave, shifting the dynamics from the often clean-dominated tracks.
‘Night Sway’ is track ten. Acting as the bridge back to the more upbeat sounds, this track introduces faster beats and high clean vocals amongst Mess’ still angered screams. Listening in order, seeing the progression of the vocals and their portrayal of both the mood and story they are carrying is something to behold. Aside from the lyrics, tone is the single biggest element in developing and sharing a story. DGD have mastered their technique perfectly, shifting at just the right times. Watching the story unfold and the perspectives change is a vital part of the ‘Afterburner’ story, and it becomes evident in transitional tracks such as this. ‘Night Sway’ is a song with many layers and feelings, all encapsulated into what is heard by the listener.
Track eleven is ‘Say Hi’. Providing yet another twist in this album, ‘Say Hi’ abandons the glimmers of happiness in the previous track and returns to the angered ways heard so infrequently in this album. With some evident spurts of it being a heavily metalcore influenced song, it becomes a clear standout. In some ways, I think it's agreeable that no other track has been so confident and defined, whether that be through its striking instrumentals or assured vocals. Its heaviness does not burden nor weighs down the rest of the album, instead, it becomes a refreshing inclusion to a diverse and ever-changing album. ‘Say Hi’ reminds the listener of the many sounds of ‘Afterburner’, prompting a celebration of the diverse and genre-shifting nature of Dance Gavin Dance.
‘Nothing Shameful’ introduces the first of two feature artists upon the album. The twelfth track invites Andrew Wells as an accompanying vocalist. The introduction of Wells provides a softer, unseen element to an album shrouded in the powerful vocals of Tillian and the unmissable screams of Mess, once again shifting the dynamics of their sound. Together, they cover all areas, reaching from the most fragile of places to the guttural depths of Mess. Altogether, this song is a perfectly balanced combination of each artist, truly letting each one shine for their respective reasons. There is certainly ‘nothing shameful’ about this track, and it perfectly showcases the uniqueness of all parties involved to create a powerful track with such opposing voices.
Concluding ‘Afterburner’ is ‘Into the Sunset’. This track also holds a guest feature, that being Bilmuri. As a closing track, this song slowly and neatly ties up the loose ends of the album. In a mellow and smooth way, we as listeners are truly led into the sunset by the calming nature of this track. ‘Into the Sunset' certainly differs from what lies behind it, but it still communicates and encapsulates the album in a manner that leaves you feeling satisfied. Shifting tones once again, the anger is gone and is replaced with this mellow sense of being at one with what is left. ‘Into the Sunset’ leaves the listener with a warm feeling, and gradually leaves the album of ‘Afterburner’ behind in a dignifying and enjoyable way.
Through its thirteen tracks, ‘Afterburner’ communicates the ever-changing styles and sounds of Dance Gavin Dance, proving why they are still an essential, prominent, exciting and defining band within the scene. Despite their fifteen-year history, the band continue to create refreshing albums filled with twists, turns and the occasional guest to shake things up! ‘Afterburner’ is a well-polished machine that seamlessly showcases the many talents gained throughout DGD’s history, as well as the multitude of skills they have mastered along the way. This album is not merely a collection of new songs but comes as a collection of stories, lessons and all-round good vibes. I would highly recommend this album, and if you do so, listen to it in order! Dance Gavin Dance have masterfully created a beautiful album, using elements that other bands would simply stare at in bewilderment. They are truly unique, and ‘Afterburner’ proves that.
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