Despite constant lineup changes since their 2005 formation, Dance Gavin Dance have remained one of the most consistent bands in post-hardcore, pumping out solid releases all the way up to this year’s Instant Gratification. Whether it’s Jonny Craig, Kurt Travis or Tilian Pearson wielding the microphone, Will Swan’s APMA-nominated guitar skills and Matt Mingus’ drumming will always form the foundation of the music, and the results have proved them distinctively great. These 10 songs are a testament to their prowess.
10. “Acceptance Speech” (Acceptance Speech, 2013)
An aggressive burst of angular post-hardcore, a brief moment of total chaos followed by a soothing catharsis, this is modern Dance Gavin Dance firing on all cylinders. Pearson’s layered vocals in the second half are haunting, but the questionable rapping keeps this at the 10th spot.
9. “Blue Dream” (Downtown Battle Mountain II, 2011)
Craig puts on his best crooning voice for this Downtown Battle Mountain II track, which highlights the band’s R&B influences most prominently. It’s got the typical screaming moments, but for the most part, it’s a slick, sexy cut with Swan and bassist Eric Lodge bringing the groove.
8. “Caviar” (Dance Gavin Dance, 2008)
DGD get some help from fellow Sacramentan Chino Moreno of Deftones on this cut from their self-titled album. Moreno’s trademark tenor complements both Travis and Jon Mess on this moody track, and the bridge is straight out of the Deftones playbook. The only drawback is that we don’t hear more of his scream.
7. “Stroke God, Millionaire” (Instant Gratification, 2015)
This track from Instant Gratification has gotten some buzz for its animated video following a time-traveling duck creature, but the song stands on its own. The trade-off between the soothing Pearson-led sections and the aggressive Mess is a powerful dynamic, and it takes a talented band to pull it off without sounding clichéd.
6. “Need Money” (Downtown Battle Mountain II, 2011)
A standout from Downtown Battle Mountain II, “Need Money” is a short, punchy song that contains one of the catchiest riffs in the Dance Gavin Dance canon, guest trumpet playing and one of Mess’ weirdest lyrical contributions (“It’s a fallacy, I like meatloaf” and “I gave my liver to the football team” are among the head scratchers). It’s an odd mix, but a great example of DGD throwing everything at the wall, and making most of it stick.
5. “Tree Village” (Happiness, 2009)
After the self-titled album caused some to question if the Kurt Travis-era of Dance Gavin Dance could live up to the expectations set by Downtown Battle Mountain—and Mess and Eric Lodge departed—Happiness was the band’s chance to make a statement about their future. “Tree Village” is the perfect announcement, with its ethereal guitars and lyrics about restarting and excuses. Whether those lines are actually about the band are open to interpretation, but either way, the song showed that DGD were back in business.
4. “The Backwards Pumpkin Song” (Downtown Battle Mountain, 2007)
Mingus’ machine-gun drumming and Craig’s soaring vocals make this song from Downtown Battle Mountain one of the best examples of DGD’s brand of aggressive beauty. The driving rhythm adds impact to the song’s emotional heft, demonstrating early on what potential this lineup had.
3. “Carl Barker” (Happiness, 2009)
Swan opens “Carl Barker” with one of the slickest guitar licks he’s ever come up with, but it’s Travis who makes this song his own as he cycles through emotions. His quiet, earnest delivery of “talking is for functioning people” saves that line from corniness, and it makes his louder moments elsewhere more powerful. Don’t miss Swan’s great solo.
2. “Death Of The Robot With Human Hair” (Acceptance Speech, 2013)
Every one of Dance Gavin Dance’s singers has had the opportunity to take a crack at the “Robot With Human Hair” series, but it’s Acceptance Speech’s “Death Of The Robot” that takes the cake. The only “Robot” song that actually embraces the sci-fi theme of the title in both lyrics and instrumentation, this futuristic-sounding, proggy mini-epic is a high point of the Tilian Pearson era.
1. “Lemon Meringue Tie” (Downtown Battle Mountain, 2007)
A math rock-inflected opening led by Lodge’s excellent bass playing leads into one of Dance Gavin Dance’s most infectious choruses. Both Craig and Mess have signature moments in this one, whether it’s Craig’s unbarred, sustained emotion or Mess’ anger as he screams “Mace yourself, blame someone else.” It’s all of the band’s strengths in one song.