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Dance Gavin Dance Releases “Afterburner” (ALBUM REVIEW)

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Sacramento based rock band, Dance Gavin Dance, has been up to a lot this 2020.

After tour dates were set, starting a day after their album release with the day-long Sacramento exclusive festival, Swanfest, shows all around the nation were sold out all around the nation before the pandemic took the world by storm. The tour has officially been rescheduled to late summer, including Swanfest, which will be the band’s conclusion to the US leg of the tour on September 12th.

There have been debates over rescheduling the album’s release, but Dance Gavin Dance refused to let their highly anticipated album wait. Afterburner was released as scheduled this week on April 24th, and let’s just say that the anticipation was worth it.

After trickling a single every couple of weeks until the album dropped, anticipation continued to heighten as fans all around the world found reprieve in their music. Paired with a music video, the releases lightened the atmosphere with a unique sense of humor and beautifully executed pieces of art.

As usual, the album pushes the boundaries of their previous albums, showing a refusal to fit in a specific genre, but at the same time, expanding upon their own unique niche.

The album starts off strong with “Prisoner,” a cool and catchy tune that is fully Dance Gavin Dance’s signature sound. After many years defining a niche in the hard punk world, the band continues to release hits that match, if not improve on their sound from previous albums. Tilian Pearson’s crisp, clean vocals stick in your head, especially when paired with the unclean screams of Jon Mess and the skillfully plucked guitar riffs by Will Swan. “Prisoner” was a single teased from the album with a music video. The band shine’s light on Jon’s screams as he sits in a chair, shouting wide-eyed toward the rest of the band who plays nearby.

Next in the album is “Lyrics Lie,” another single, released on April 9th. The song starts out calmer, feeding the longing for their classic and cool punk sound, then in the pre-chorus, the song takes a turn as Jon’s vocals punch the eardrums with emotional, hard-hitting screams.

The music video highlights a Californian artist, Duce One, who painted the album cover in the heart of the band’s hometown to promote the release. The time lapse shows layers upon layers of hard work. I happened to stumble on the building during one of my daily walks around town and reached out to the artist, stunned by their skill.

Through an old friend, Duce One was contacted about the commission after painting wallscapes and murals for over twenty years. He has painted wall advertisements for Maroon 5, The Xambassadors, Made in Tokyo, Katy Perry, the Backstreet Boys, and more. 

  • Tell me a bit about your background as an artist. How long have you been creating art? 
    • I am self taught artist. My early introduction into murals was through the practice of graffiti art. I was fortunate enough to be given many opportunities from people who I would meet while painting walls. I’ve painted over 400 murals for private, corporate and personal projects and have gotten the opportunity to travel across the world.
    • I’ve been painting all my life. My earliest recollection where I actually considered my self as an artist was in the second grade.
    • The first mural I painted was at age 13 at my Jr. high school. I believe the year was 1987. I am now 46 years old so it’s been 33 years.

  • How long did this mural take to execute?
    • This particular Mural took longer than expected. I had to try a new method to me. It’s called the doodle grid. It’s a way of transferring images on to walls. If you watch the video you will notice the wall has a bunch of doodles on it before I start laying the actual album art on it. This method added more time to the project but it allowed me to scale the artwork exactly as if was given to me. It took me 7, 16 hour days to finish.

One of the most unique tracks of Dance Gavin Dance’ s to date, “Calentamiento Global” is incredibly catchy, and I could see myself rocking out to this song for days straight. Firstly, Tilian’s clean vocals are written in Spanish. Second, the contrast between clean and unclean vocals couldn’t be more different. The song’s title translates to “global warming,” but interestingly enough, the lyrics are a simple and upbeat love song, talking about how “her moves can bring world peace, and cure global warming.”

“Three Wishes” was released on April 16th, and feels like a perfect sequel to the previous track on the album, whereas as a single, it felt as if it were a stand-alone compared to the other singles. The music video features submissions from fans embracing their lives in quarantine, putting the focus on them as they formed creative ways to show off their routines of hygiene. “One in a Million” and “Parody Catharsis” are also softer songs in Afterburner, fitting neatly into the album with their signature sound.

The album continues with an upbeat track. “Strawberry’s Wake” is filled with a lighthearted, positive message, and was released as a single just as the quarantine was becoming a new reality for US citizens, when fears were heightening.

This song is a thematic continuation of the famed “Strawberry” series, which started on their debut full length album Downtown Battle Mountain in 2007 with “Strawberry Andre,” and continued throughout the band’s later albums. Instrumentally, the series is stylistically similar, with post-hardcore, sweet and cheery funk. Not all of the songs in the series are lyrically upbeat, but “Strawberry’s Wake,” is, and it was released just in time to create an environment of reprieve as the entire world continues to face a dark year in isolation.

In the music video, Jon Mess provides hilarious vocals as the flight attendant, the sunshine screamer on a rainy day. “You couldn’t hate him if you tried,” a fan commented on social media, and rightly so. The video gives you the feel of a parody, as if they aren’t taking themselves too seriously, while still having a good time rocking out.

“Strawberry’s Wake” focuses wholly on celebrating the self; without putting too much stress on being perfect, everyone is searching for meaning as they conquer their fears and try to improve themselves.

With a few references scattered in, “Born to Fail” hits hard with Jon’s unclean vocals, which show off his pitch variance and remind me of his performances in one of his side projects, Secret Band. The message is a general “screw everyone who told us we wouldn’t make it,” while alluding to the band members’ past and the downfall of someone they knew. I am going to keep the last part vague, but to all of the DGD fans out there, you probably know what I am talking about.

“Parallels” is another strong song on the album, starting with a catchy, low pitch guitar riff, and digs into the parallel of contentment in being alone and the isolation that seems to linger and weigh heavily on the shoulders. Lyrically, “Parallels” is poetic and heavy, and you can feel the weight in the guitar and drums that sound unlike previous songs of theirs. Then the song ends with the words “Why don’t you stop, why don’t you quit? You’ll never get better, you’ll never get over her…” screamed by Jon; and you can feel the longing and emptiness as the instrumentals are halted there.

From here on, the album finishes off strong. “Night Sway” features a possible call back rift of “Rock Solid,” and reminded me a lot of the fan favorite album Mothership. The song starts off heavy builds itself up, then ends without warning. Followed by, “Say Hi,” the two songs are paired beautifully together. The track flow of Afterburner was well planned, especially from “Night Sway,” onward, as if all the remaining songs create a big finale of the album. 

“Say Hi,” is easily my favorite track from the album. Matt Mingus shines on the drums while Jon and Tilian’s vocals sent chills through me. Standing alone, this track feeds every need I was craving to hear out of Afterburner; heavy drums, Jon going at it, and Tilian’s crisp voice, piercing reason through the chaos of sound. This song heavily represents when those innermost anxieties become real; the fears of saying hello, acting normal while the mind is screaming voices of dark and quiet and isolation, while processing through and creating a reprieve. 

The transition into, “Nothing Shameful” is clean and fits right in to the album. The song hits home with a feature written and sung by Andrew Wells. Both he and Tilian’s clean vocals create a beautiful harmony. Then, Afterburner is concluded with “Into the Sunset,” a stripped down melody with auto-tune, electronic elements, and emotional vocals. Including a bridge featuring a rap with Bilmuri, the song is another that pushes the boundaries of the band.

It is interesting that Dance Gavin Dance concludes their album with their most experimental track to date, leaving its listeners with a bittersweet feeling, as the last songs in albums in the past have also done. Though very different from their typical music, “Into the Sunset” pairs old sounds with new without losing sight of who they are as a band, which all in all shows of their artistic talent and craftsmanship.

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Afterburner has already hit top charts, without even a day passing after the release. I think that speaks for the album itself, but if you haven’t already, you should highly consider listening to Dance Gavin Dance’s new music.


Stream Afterburner here!

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  1. […] For the second time, Sacramento-based band Dance Gavin Dance has rescheduled dates for their Afterburner. […]

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