MOTHERSHIP by Dance Gavin Dance
Favorites: “Young Robot,” “Here Comes The Winter”
Being unique and being talented are not the same things as being enjoyable or being entertaining. For some reason this is a controversial statement. Any criticism of Babymetal or Die Antwoord is inevitably followed by a weak defense based on the fact that they are “different” and therefore that makes them immune to criticism. My grading rubric does not give points for uniqueness or talent; it gives points for how well an album does in terms of what its intentions are, no matter the ambition. If those intentions are to be be derivative and ride the coattails of others a little too closely, then there is a problem. If an album is trying to be different than something else, that doesn’t earn it praise if its execution is poor.
I say all this because Dance Gavin Dance, or at least its lead guitarist Will Swan, is very talented. He has some of the most complex, meticulous, and tightest shredding in modern rock. Furthermore, Dance Gavin Dance is certainly one of the most unique bands in post-hardcore, with their intertwining clean and screamed vocals, perfectly produced chaotic sound, disregard for coherency in songwriting or lyrics, and fusion of emo, math rock, progressive rock, and funky dance rock. Over the course of seven albums and several line-up changes, the band has developed the kind of following that gives five stars to unreleased albums on iTunes. I’m glad that their style is resonating with a lot of people, because it has never resonated with me, and MOTHERSHIP doesn’t make enough changes to persuade listeners otherwise.
There are only two songs that I found at all listenable on MOTHERSHIP. “Young Robot” has an elegant opening flute, provided by Will’s girlfriend, that pairs well with the guitars to evoke a bright daybreak sound, while “Here Comes The Winner” is the only track where any matter of emotion manifests itself besides smug disinterest, thanks to clean vocalist Tillian Pierson’s self-absorbed and entitled delivery. The rest of MOTHERSHIP’s clean vocals have this “white people attempting to be smooth and soulful,” Maroon 5-esque quality that is more lifeless and stiff than a corpse entering rigor-mortis. At least the clean vocals have a melody; unclean vocalist Jon Mess’s freakouts sound like the ramblings a drunken metal singer during downtime at a concert.
“Here Comes The Winner” takes us into the fame-obsessed mind of a narcissistic, vapid celebrity on reality TV. However, it can’t restrain itself from dropping immature insults like “I shake my scepter fresh and you smell like sphincter” and “You’re sitting on a dildo pile / That’s why your ass hurts,” all made worse by Mess’s generic screams that convey nothing other than angst. These two lyrics are a solid indicator of MOTHERSHIP’s lyrical quality. Every song is the textbook example of word salad, with sentence fragments, incomplete thoughts, and similes as thin as a single hair follicle all creating the impression of a first draft. Song structure is just as cobbled together and sloppy, with no sense of dynamism and progression and no attention paid to satisfying intros or codas. I feel like I could cut out portions of all these songs, stitch them back together in random order, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between it and the actual songs on MOTHERSHIP.
It seems as if the incoherence is supposed to be humorous, but any laughs you could get out of it evaporate pretty quickly for several reasons. First, MOTHERSHIP buys into the school of comedy that believes repeating the same joke and style over and over again will yield the same number of laughs as it does the first time. Patching a grab-bag of words into a series of absurd and meaningless statements may be initially amusing, but the concept quickly becomes tiresome when you realize that literally anything and anybody can make it work. When combined with his overly impassioned delivery, Tillian’s nasally and whiny vocals are so loud and up-front in the mix that they suck out any fun or charm he could imbue the lyrics with, and Jon has too little range or character in his early 2000s screams to give the nonsense any weight. The fact that the band thinks they’re smart enough to deliver sharp, intelligent satire about religion (“Inspire the Liars”) and SJWs (“Petting Zoo Justice”) makes the listening experience all the more cringe-worthy.
The music is incredibly fluid and tight as it moves from the moshpit to the dance floor, but the music is so far back in the mix that any powerful riffs and danceable grooves are buried by dated freakouts and showy vocals. No matter what subgenre, rock music needs to have at least an infinitesimal amount of grit and dirtiness to it, but MOTHERSHIP has been sanitized and cleaned to death, and the result is a gutless, sterile record. Any headbanging is cancelled out by the pop-sheen production, and any groove or catchiness is irrelevant thanks to the gaudy vocals and absence of anything resembling choruses (or verses, or bridges, or any other structural elements). It’s like an emo pop punk band (with the emphasis on the pop) trying to branch into hardcore punk, but they forgot that ferocity and authenticity are more integral to punk than flashiness.
While it’s nice to see a post-hardcore band that doesn’t take itself seriously, MOTHERSHIP is not as much tongue-in-cheek as it is up its own butt with its nauseating self-awareness about how stupid everything they sing is. Dance Gavin Dance has been doing this for seven albums now, and they have become so esoteric and niche that only their most devoted followers will be able to stomach it.They are unique and they are talented, but all of those things pale in comparison to being entertaining, which MOTHERSHIP is not.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend