We’ve seen California Post Hardcore ancients Dance Gavin Dance craft some of the brightest gems of the genre for years. Artificial Selection could well be the brightest.
Dance Gavin Dance has combined several flavors of stylistic finesse into explosive walls and signature moves. DGD’s signatures have long been reminiscent of the crown jewel of the Final Fantasy video game series- the Limit Break. The protagonist’s ultimate move, the Limit Break would scorch the earth and leave nothing in its wake but awe. We’ve seen Limit Break moments studded across DGD’s discography to win the hearts of the zanier side of the genre, and now it’s Artificial Selection’s turn to shatter the ceiling.
Artificial Selection demands a change and asks the listener a simple question. “Forget the moment, are you ready for half an album’s worth of Limit Break?”
This fourteen-song leviathan of an album breaks the limits of more than a dozen of the themes Dance Gavin Dance has cultivated. Candy-sweetness, sinister swagger, and neon-overdrive dance club are but a few of the album’s sparkling new archetypes Contrasting influences from every album since Tilian Pearson’s arrival are ripe for the picking(Coupled with a few jaw-dropping surprises from as early as the 2007 Self-titled.) Dance Gavin Dance has reached a new threshold. Artificial Selection struts some masterful musicianship across not one, but several archetypes.
Now that Dance Gavin Dance has gotten four albums under their belt with lead vocalist Tilian Pearson, they’ve stabilized. They’re ready to perform one of the most epic outward reaches in the band’s history.
They’re not only healthy, Dance Gavin Dance is living large and eating at the cross-genre big kids’ table. Artificial Selection is proof; the group is flourishing like never before.
Flourishing like the explosive soft-boi beauty of “Shelf Life”, my favorite moment of the album by far. It’s got a tender vocal feature with legendary former front-man Kurt Travis, and one of the bubbliest whiplash licks of the whole album. It sets the stage for a wall of sound that blooms ferocious. With so many galvanized moving parts, it feels like an entire garden comes into blossom before the listener. The wall is a laurel-covered mausoleum. A peak-nimbleness Jon Mess drops mesmerizing lines over Tilian’s soaring calls. The fact that Mess has learned how to blend into a wall of sound as massive and nebulous as that chorus is truly spellbinding.
The songwriting of Artificial Selection is going to be a reference for Post bands for years to come.
Combining dizzying transitions with clear-cut verse and chorus, Artifical Selection’s composition connects with the unimaginable. DGD strikes the perfect combination of creative ambition and methodical procession. Adding to this two-part force, these Limit Breaks’ explosive collisions happen at moments that make perfect sense between the two.
Each song can whisk a listener through three different worlds in four minutes. The variety is staggering- every song surpasses a distinctive flavor. Take “Son of Robot” and its glacial, explosive, and ghostly flavors. It becomes like a coin with three sides. The rest of the album turns into a coin-flip extravaganza of the band’s most sizzling flavors, unchained.
Artifical Selection is complex at unprecedented levels.
Admittedly, ArSe can be taxing in a full listen because of its complexity. However, its expectation-confounding poise, encapsulating beauty and lighthearted fun simply do not tire. (“Story of My Bros” is a 3-minute whirlwind of mosh pit glee.)
Vocally, Tilian and Mess have demonstrated an unbelievable metamorphosis. Mess, on the brink of breakthrough in Mothership, showed signs of adaptation as he began to flourish under a growing limelight. Now, Mess takes the wheel in more than half of the album’s tracks, turning his “belligerent at lightning speed” tirades into a weapon of choice like never before. Mess’s various styles are calling card of successful vocal experimentation. Mess also manages to tap into the outskirts of his freneticism- harkening to his Secret Band vocals- in a way that harnesses pure ferocity into easy listening. His uncleans strike an intermingling force with Will Swan’s thunderous licks that supercharge each part.
While Mess has stepped into the golden age of versatility, Tilian connects to vulnerability. Songs like “Care”, “Shelf Life”, “Evaporate”, and his Drake-like interlude in “The Rattler” show an impressive degree of emotional openness. For Tilian, whose persona of false images and manipulation has defined him over the years, this is no easy feat. Not only have Pearson and Mess demonstrated thoughtfulness and control of their tone, but they’ve extended astonishingly deep into their creative pockets and created a new kind of vibrancy in Artificial Selection.
Tilian’s lyrics are haunting, and his voice is mercurial. They are so fluid and crisp that I become concerned about his ability to maintain such a demanding sound at the pace DGD goes at. It takes a toll to recreate the range and intensity Tilian has been exercising.
Dance Gavin Dance has gas in the tank, and is yet to peak in their climb towards the summit. They cannot reach supremacy without preserving Tilian’s vocal tenacity and pushing the perfect storms.
As expected, Will Swan turns “shredding your ass off” into a nonstop experience.
Hypnotizing rhythm, blistering buildups, busy ambiance and heart-stopping crunch are but a few of Swan’s spotlight moments in ArSe. Emotionally devastating riffs in songs like “Son of Robot”, “Bloodsucker”, “The Rattler”, and “Slouch” give a darker luster to contrast the lighthearted moments.
Listening to Swan’s own Limit Breaks are like watching Ol’ Faithful-every fifteen minutes or so, he spurts heart-blood magic from his guitar in total spectacle. Moments come when Mess’s Syllables and Swan’s notes come to singular resonance, like two storms synchronized down to the breeze. It’s one of the coolest techniques I’ve ever heard, and you’ll only see it with DGD.
I’m grateful that bassist Tim Feerick gets to flex his finesse in so many styles across the album. “Count Bassy”, “Slouch”, and “The Rattler” continue to push the creative potential of vibrant basswork in Post Hardcore.
Percussionist Matt Mingus, the only member of the band appearing on every song, gets the crown as the most versatile member. He sets the pace and intensity for every one of the broken limit moments the other members shine in.
The ending to Artificial Selection beats out the reigning Acceptance Speech, a feat I thought impossible.
“Evaporate” is urgent at almost apocalyptic levels, resonating with a steely-eyed determination that deserves the title of epic. With a sage-like vocal feature from Andrew Wells, this song inspires eye-widening strength through transparency. And spot-on in the right place- the last minute of the song conjures a mosaic of surprises a decade in the making. DGD ends Artifical Selection not with lyrics, but with incantations that exorcise memories across years of sentiment to leave a listener awestruck.
In an album full of shattered expectations, Evaporate is the Ultimate Ultimate.
My favorite songs off the album are “Son of Robot”, “Shelf Life”, “Slouch”, “Bloodsucker”, and “Evaporate”.
Buy five copies of it right now.