The time has come for me to write my first review for my favorite band, Dance Gavin Dance. As someone who has listened to the band religiously for over a decade, I have seen them flourish with a consistent line-up for the past six years. The combination of soaring clean vocalist Tilian Pearson, innovative guitarist Will Swan, chaotic unclean vocalist Jon Mess, groovy bassist Tim Feerick, and grounded drummer Matt Mingus have persisted and created four cohesive albums together that are devoid of filler and full of memorable moments. My expectations are grand for the band’s ninth album, Afterburner, so let’s dive right in!
“Prisoner” was the album-announcement single and kicks off Afterburner. From the first measure, a complex dual-guitar riff immediately throws off first-time listeners. It’s still hard to wrap my head around the progression of these triplets, but that’s what we get with Swancore staple Sergio Medina working with Will on this song. Exploring the topics of religion and its subsequent confinement, the profoundness of the lyricism takes hold from the get-go. My favorite part of this song is the first post-chorus where all we can hear is yet another one of Will’s patented funk riffs that’s hard not to jive to. I distinctly remember being in my workplace when it dropped early in the morning February 22nd, dancing along at my standing desk and feeling on top of the world with this groovy piece.
A contender for one of my favorite Dance Gavin Dance songs of all time, “Lyrics Lie” has so many tricks up its sleeve that my initial listen left my mouth agape. Within the first few seconds, Will employs a tapping riff that is immensely satisfying. The obtuse staccatos matched with Jon’s intensity in the second half of the verse keeps my ears peeled, and the vocal melody in the chorus is impossible for me not to sing along to. The part that’s getting a lot of attention with DGD fans is the post chorus, deservedly so, as Tilian screams in a call-and-response with Jon. I haven’t heard Tilian scream since earlier Tides of Man, so it’s a welcome addition to Dance Gavin Dance’s arsenal. He also flies high with his performance in the song’s bridge, sounding like “a goddamn animal“.To top it all off, touring guitarist/Eidola frontman Andrew Wells gets to sing along in the last chorus (albeit a bit quiet in the mix – I would have loved to hear his voice a bit more to make this chorus even more special.)
A curveball from the experimental styling of Dance Gavin Dance is a far cry, but we get just that with “Calentamiento Global,” a Latin-inspired romp complete with lyrics in Spanish. The dichotomy of Jon screaming in English is thankfully not jarring, as the dedication to this format is absolutely nailed within the meter of the instrumentals and Tilian’s on-point delivery. The crescendo near the end solidifies this unexpected, unprecedented third track for Afterburner.
The last single released before Afterburner, “Three Wishes” had a music video call for fans to clean up their act in a group effort, something similar act Emarosa took inspiration from for their upcoming music video for “So Bad”. Delicate guitar effects give off an easygoing vibe as Tilian expresses his feelings of a love/hate relationship. A memorable Mess moment takes place as Jon shouts “Multiple stab wounds!” which, for some reason, is exceptionally contagious despite its simplicity. Powerful lyrics, “I won’t tame you, I won’t fade your shine. Won’t restrain you, I won’t break your stride.” have the potential to put a lot of listeners in a hopeful mood.
“One in a Million” follows up “Lyrics Lie”s vibe of brashness with lyrical cues like “Heal my soul, ’cause I’m one in a million” and somehow rhymes the word “straight” six times in the post-chorus. The collaboration of syncopated notes from the band to coincide with Tilian’s note delivery bolsters the grooviness this track gives off. The closing measures see layers of Tilian’s held notes gracefully give the track closure.
“Parody Catharsis” sees an old guitarist from the band, Zachary Garren, contribute. We get more melody out of Jon Mess in the verse (and outro) and we get a rare showing of Will Swan rapping, something we haven’t heard since Mothership‘s “Chocolate Jackalope.” We also get some hyper-relevant lyrics from Tilian: “As the world is crumbling down, I’m falling in love; don’t need your politics, I’m focused,” a mindset we should all embody in this struggle. The second verse sees Tilian back Jon, but hit some insanely-beautiful high notes with ease.
A high-profile single, “Strawberry’s Wake” continues the “Strawberry Swisher” saga, picking up after Instant Gratification‘s “Death of a Strawberry.” Hitting a suprisingly low register for his range, Tilian’s somber lyricism gets a wake-up call with Jon screaming “HEY!” in an instant symbolic shift. As Tilian gradually gets more jovial, Jon beckons, “I want you to matter to you, forget those backstabbers.” Worthy of note is that Jon’s vocal delivery is melodic, which is quite rare for his DGD performances – in fact, he’s only really done it in previous Strawberry iterations “Swisher pt. III” and “Death of.” Tim gets his time to shine before the song’s outro with two measures of unadulterated groove.
“Born to Fail” is a heavier piece, almost sounding like a Secret Band song until Tilian comes in and calls out his target through the verse and chorus. There’s so much vitriol in these lyrics and it’s so refreshing to see Tilian not hold back. The vocals get the most out of this song, even though the instruments continue to impress and complement Tilian and Jon.
The grooviest call-to-action I’ve heard in ages, “Parallels” outclasses even Downtown Battle Mountain II in its meticulate, bouncy nature. Jon’s verse is layered with what sounds like Will in the background. The transition to the chorus is butter-smooth, and I was thrown off yet again with Tilian performing the post-chorus in a swing-style. The outro’s guitar effects are chunky and unprecedented from Will.
“Night Sway” comes out swinging with a breakneck pace in its fast, melodic riff that Dance Gavin Dance is known for. We get another bass moment ahead of Will incorporating another tapping section ahead of the chorus. Uncharacteristic of earlier thematic tones, the chorus comes off as self-punishing and introspective, perhaps to change up the vibe. I’m going to be singing this chorus for years to come.
The undoubtedly heaviest piece, “Say Hi,” is reminiscent of the band’s past bits like “Shark Dad” and “Petting Zoo Justice.” I have to give credit to Matt Mingus hitting so many consecutive drum rolls within the first minute of this song. I love the 3/4 section interspersed in this track’s chorus. Jon’s “Uh-uh HEY” is absolutely hilarious and adds to the charm he’s consistently brought to the act.
A lot of fans adored Andrew Wells’ part in Artificial Selection‘s “Evaporate,” and we get to hear him again in “Nothing Shameful.” The seamless transition from “Say Hi” throws listeners right into the fun opening riff. Tilian really flexes his high notes throughout this song, hitting highs I could never think of hitting. Andrew’s part delivered me instant goosebumps, sung so calmly and passionately. Giving him an entire bridge to work with is pure bliss for listeners, making this my second favorite after “Lyrics Lie,” furthered by Tilian/Jon joining forces to close out the song.
We wrap up Afterburner with the befitting “Into the Sunset.” With a gentle, relaxing tone, Johnny Franck aka Bilmuri takes hold of the first verse overlayed with a trap beat, a new element to the fold for DGD. There’s something about Jon’s “Stick around, get stuck” that’s as infectious as “Multiple stab wounds” from earlier. We FINALLY get a Will rap on the forefront that matches the dedication of “Eagles Vs. Crows.”
My expectations for Afterburner were sky-high, and, to my pleasure, THEY WERE MET. I got goosebumps, I got flashbacks, and I ended up with a smile on my face. Of course, these are first impressions, but Dance Gavin Dance has a replayability factor that I haven’t encountered with any other band. With a long-standing history in the music scene, the band has continued to defy all genre limitations and bring a LOT of new things to the table with their ninth offering, and I will be playing Afterburner frequently to pick up more and more in the near future.