It’s not unfair to say that expectations generally weren’t high the last time we got a new Dance Gavin Dance record. After the misstep of 2013’s Acceptance Speech, which came off the back of three vocalist changes within five years, you’d be forgiven for having written them off. But just as post-hardcore brethren Silverstein relaunched their career with killer sixth album This Is How the Wind Shifts (no, Short Songs doesn’t count, because it doesn’t) without any real change in sound, so Dance Gavin Dance succeeded in topping their first three fan-favorite records with last year’s Instant Gratification and put worries of a premature end to rest. Music-wise there’s admittedly not much to link the two bands, DGD playing a far more lunatic, Dean Ambrose brand of post-hardcore compared to Silverstein’s Sami Zayn – but there’s apparently some spiritual connection between them, because both succeeded in raising the bar again on album number seven.
The Dance Gavin Dance of Mothership is not very much unlike that of previous albums. They still provide the musical equivalent of eating twelve different flavours of ice cream at once, tossing furious rock drums, whirly gig guitars and freeform jazz into a blender without a lid. If there’s a section of a song you don’t like, it will be gone in ten seconds. What makes Mothership a cut above the rest is that the extremities of the band’s sound have been pushed further than ever, and wholly embraced. Matthew Mingus gets to unleash more high velocity drumming than on Instant Gratification, setting fire to “Petting Zoo Justice” and the Chiodos-esque breakdown frenzy of “Philosopher King”. These blasts of noise are ludicrously powerful: “Deception” sees Tilian Pearson (who quashes any doubts surrounding his ability to front this band with a stunning performance across the album as a whole) unleash impassioned shrieks of ‘I won’t be plastic and neutered and numb’ before an eruption of double kicks.
On the other hand, the band does more on this album to provide breathers between the relentless assault, making it all the more effective. A delicate woodwind intro on “Young Robot” and whimsical Beatles guitars lacing through “Exposed” are highlights in their own right, and perhaps the biggest surprise of Mothership is how good Dance Gavin Dance sound when they pull their feet off the accelerator. “Chucky vs. the Giant Tortoise” is a relatively tame obvious first single, but a strong one, and “Here Comes the Winner” teases you with a borderline-pop chorus before disappearing down the rabbit hole again. Band mainstay Will Swan doesn’t get enough credit for being able to play both smooth funk and virtuosic rock lead guitar, and it’s his work that unites the two poles of the band’s sound.
So many ingredients get thrown into the pot that it’s inevitable that some will taste sour. The robo-lobotomized ‘cocaine Christmas’ chorus of “Flossie Dickey Bounce” (yes, that’s genuinely a track title) pushes the song a bit too close to I Set My Friends on Fire stupidity for comfort. There is at least a knowing nature to the silliness. Co-vocalist Jon Mess can never be knocked for his passion, even if he has zero range and the words he screams appear to be culled from YouTube misheard lyric videos. The glorious mess with a lower case m is at least produced expertly once again by Kris Crummet, who proves an invaluable sixth member, and taken as a whole the album is strikingly consistent in quality – perhaps because there’s finally consistency within the band.
For a band that thrives on chaos, lineup stability has done wonders for Dance Gavin Dance’s songwriting. Keeping the same musicians for three albums in a row now has produced a hardened unit that can drop a “Hotline Bling” reference into frothy post-hardcore without breaking a sweat and include it on their best album to date. Mothership is as all over the place and sugar-rush sickly sweet anything else in their discography, but its constituent elements all feel more fleshed out and, most importantly, the songs are better constructed and memorable than almost anything in their back catalogue. Having evolved far beyond the shadow of former vocalist Jonny Craig and their tumultuous early years, Dance Gavin Dance are finally free to get on with the business of being a band, and right now business is very good indeed.