REVIEW: Dance Gavin Dance – Afterburner [2020]

Artist: Dance Gavin Dance

Album: Afterburner

            Dance Gavin Dance are a band that don’t really need introduction. Chances are, if you’ve been paying any attention to post-hardcore, alternative or math rock you’ve at least seen their name on a festival flyer or in a compilation. They are polarizing and one of the most love-them-or-hate-them bands within an otherwise palatable genre. If nothing else, however, Dance Gavin Dance are one of—if not the—most prolific band in the genre, putting out records that average around 45 minutes seemingly every year. Their latest addition, Afterburner, clocks in at the high end, nearing an hour of riff-driven, artsy-yet-aggressive technically savvy post-hardcore. While the record’s singles have earned largely positive press, the biggest question in the minds of fans and skeptics alike remains: is Afterburner another archetypal Dance Gavin Dance record, or does it see the band breaking out of the hallmark sound and style they’ve crafted for themselves? The answer—as with most things—is a little more complicated than yes or no.

            At its core, Afterburner is unmistakably a Dance Gavin Dance record. From the subtle opener, “Prisoner” through “Nothing Shameful” and “Into the Sunset,” Afterburner takes the same dancy, light-hearted energy that Dance Gavin Dance have built a career on and expands, giving listeners nearly an hour of tracks that balance catchy hooks with segments of scathing, white-hot aggression in perhaps the most fluid and natural manner the band has managed in years. Percussionist Matt Mingus continues to deliver drums that, for lack of a better means of explanation, inspire the listener to drop what they’re doing and shake their ass. This is abundantly true on singles “Lyrics Lie” and “Three Wishes.” However, Mingus’ penchant for subtle technicality and speed aren’t absent—“Into the Sunset” and “Parallels” both see him stepping up his game with percussion patterns vaguely reminiscent of Downtown Battle Mountain’s more metallic cuts. Meanwhile, bassist Tim Feerick adds bounce and groove in heaping ladles throughout Afterburner, with songs like “Strawberry’s Wake” chief among them. Feerick’s work is an excellent scaffold for the fretwork from Will Swan, who, much like Dance Gavin Dance as an entity, needs no real introduction. Swan’s work on Afterburner is yet another addition to his impressive roster of records his fretwork has graced. While “Parallels” is a heavier and more abrasive cut from Swan, “Three Wishes” and “Strawberry’s Wake” are whimsical, balancing atmosphere and catchy, bouncy leads. Swan’s work behind the fretboard is fantastic as always—even if only a select few songs (“Parallels,” “Nothing Shameful”) see him really doing much different.

            Where Dance Gavin Dance have perhaps gained the most variety on a record-to-record basis is with their vocal element. With each new singer, the band have found ways to tweak and tighten up their instrumentation—with Craig, huge choruses and catchy leads dominated. With Travis, more “-core” friendly structure blended into a backbone of funky, dancy rock with near-reggaeton elements. With the addition of Tilian Pearson in 2012, the band’s renewed focus on R&B has taken center stage—a trend that has continued with Afterburner, to a point. Pearson’s voice is still the soft, buttery croon with moments of rough-but-not-too­-roughness that listeners have spent the last eight years falling in love with. His work on “Lyrics Lie,” “Night Sway” and “Parody Catharsis” are examples of his best work yet—while “Calentamino Global” sees him using a different language altogether. Where Pearson is still…well, Pearson, what has changed is the comfort and fluidity with which he works alongside Jon Mess. The screamed and sung components of Dance Gavin Dance’s vocal dynamic hasn’t sounded this strong and natural since their early releases. Where “Parallel” is a Mess-heavy cut, “Parody Catharsis” and “Strawberry’s Wake” are excellent examples of the duo working in harmony—a harmony the likes of which hasn’t hit this smoothly in a decade.

            Afterburner is a Dance Gavin Dance record. Mess’ lines still make…tedious, if any sense. Pearson’s lines pull at the listener’s heartstrings. Mingus and Swan work as brilliantly together as they ever have. It’s catchy, artsy, bouncy and fun. Where it isn’t a departure from the band’s trademark, it’s perhaps the strongest collection of songs they’ve released in a long time, with barely a skippable moment to be found throughout the hour-long adventure. While it might not have the replay value or nostalgic appeal some of their previous records have, Afterburner sees Dance Gavin Dance working cohesively—a creative unit with all cylinders firing—and creating a strong, solid—albeit safe—contribution to their airtight discography.


For Fans Of: A Lot Like Birds, Sianvar, Royal Coda

By: Connor Welsh