Band: Dance Gavin Dance
Title: Downtown Battle Mountain II
Released: 8th March 2011
Label: Rise Records
Producer: Kris Crummett
Dance Gavin Dance’s music is definitely an acquired taste. Spasmodic beats, mixed with guitar playing that can be described best as ‘noodly’, interlaced with screamed vocals and almost R&B style clean singing, the latter provided by trouble-maker vocalist Jonny Craig. Jonny is never far from controversy and was actually kicked out of the band after the release of the debut album ‘Downtown Battle Mountain’. Two albums have passed in-between and now Jonny is back fronting the band, hence this release being dubbed a sequel.
There’s no mistaking that Downtown Battle Mountain was a critical release for the band and when Jonny was fired, it was difficult to see how the band could continue without his distinctive vocals. By changing style to an experimental, almost ‘bluesy’ sound the band was able to progress from that iconic debut album and offer something that kept the fans happy. Downtown Battle Mountain II sees a return of Jonny Craig, and screamer Jon Mess, and with them, a return to the sound of the debut album. It was a big risk for the band; did it pay off?
Well yes, and no. The music is still very interesting; the guitar playing carries a refreshing air of freedom, seemingly not restricted to timing patterns or any sort of structure, which gives the songs a very loose feel and sounds great. The sound of Jon Mess screaming was always unpleasant to my ears on previous albums, but this time around his voice is much less intrusive on my enjoyment and actually fits in quite well in places. Then we come to Mr Craig.
I’ll apologise now for making this review mainly about Jonny, but the band have attached this stigma to him by taking him back, and the man attracts so much attention to himself with his crazy antics, that I feel the focus is justified. On the original album, his vocals were brilliantly delivered and his melodies memorable (quite the feat, considering he was high almost the whole time), but this time around you can clearly tell that the band recorded the songs separately and Jonny laid his vocals over the top – there is a distinct lack of cohesion.
His former band mates in Emarosa recently revealed that Jonny’s approach to recording vocals is to ad-lib his lines and basically play to his strengths – i.e. the soulful, R&B vibe that he’s so good at. From that I’m willing to guess that he actually means very little of what he sings, but on past recordings I’ve definitely felt an emotional response to his vocals, especially on his work with Emarosa. What this means is that on previous works of Jonny Craig, his ability to ‘act’ as he sings has been highly effective and for what it’s worth, I couldn’t care less whether he means anything that sings. All that counts for me is that he channels emotion (no matter how false) that I can connect with it. After all, isn’t that what actors do when they play a part in a film?
Sadly though, this time round his acting has let him down and aside from three tracks (Elder Goose, Blue Dream and Privilously Poncheezied) I don’t feel moved by anything that he sings. I feel as though Jonny has approached this album as a job rather than an artistic release and for the first time, that beautiful tone in his voice just isn’t enough for me. A band is at its best when its members are bouncing ideas off of one another; song writing is a dynamic event that can evolve as individuals pitch their ideas into one composition. With Downtown Battle Mountain II that dynamic is sadly lacking, which leaves the songs sounding disjointed and ultimately, rushed.
I was surprised at how quickly the band managed to turn this album around, it seemed to only take a month to write, record and release, and maybe that’s the issue. There are still some enjoyable moments on this album, most notably ‘Blue Dream’, which proves that when the band click, they create some brilliant music, but too often this album feels rushed and unrefined. Maybe the band will take their time writing the next album, and if Jonny is to stay around long enough to be singing on it, I’m hoping he can fool me into thinking he means it next time.