So here we are again—back at the infinite tautology of Dance Gavin Dance albums whose popularity never gets any less head-wreckingly incomprehensible. Few bands of their size are really like this, in which with every new album they continue to drop, the appeal of their spasmodic, hyper-saturated mathcore never becomes clearer. And yet, they’re now ten albums deep, somewhat bringing into question how much artistic inspiration goes into these albums when they’re supposed to be forward-thinking and laser-tight among post-hardcore, yet they’re shoved out every couple of years. It’s probably the reason why evolution has never been a concept that Dance Gavin Dance have placed much stock in; as well as they play their instruments, they wind up in basically the same place every time, which cripples any kind of identifiability that individual albums might have. And that segues quite nicely into Jackpot Juicer, an album with 17 tracks and an hour-plus runtime, and few actual songs to show for it. For an issue that Dance Gavin Dance have been crippled by since day dot—that being the hurdle of cogent composition that’s actually satisfying to listen to—it’s quite impressive how little they’ve bothered to engage with it while still bulking the album out to this degree. Tracks congeal and blend together to the point where they’re basically entirely congruent, the typical full-force sensory assault of Dance Gavin Dance stretched out to be even less tolerable. Perhaps some grace can be awarded to Synergy for bringing aboard Don Broco’s Rob Damiani as a different vocal presence, despite how underused he is and how inconsequential his contributions are to the whole piece. Still, it’s a palette-cleanser for what Tilian Pearson and Jon Mess bring, neither of whom are all that capable of deviating from their existing lane, as a means of piling on the homogeneity even further. Neither of them are without fault when it comes to vocal tones that just don’t feel up to speed with where the overall sound is going, but maybe the edge goes to Mess as a screamer for a raggedness in delivery that can fit in with the angularity. As for Pearson, his voice becomes more grating with each passing track; this is probably the album where his breathy-but-not-quite R&B stylings feel as though they truly have nothing to offer. You can more or less strike that as always being the case now, but Jackpot Juicer’s unmasking of everything wrong with Dance Gavin Dance is far more vociferous and unmerciful in revealing how unsatisfying this band really is.
At least, that’s how it feels on an hour-long gauntlet that’s effectively rerunning the exact ground that’s never been fertile before. For the diehards who somehow find enjoyment from this—overly taut, intensely bright post-hardcore burdened with production that’s way too clean and antiseptic—at least you know what you’re getting with Jackpot Juicer. That also works against it too, mind, especially in how ubiquitous Will Swan’s weedly-wee guitar is, on a frequency that isolates itself so much from everything else that it’s impossible to consider a piece of a whole, instead of an intrusive gnaw that’s been bolted on. It becomes increasingly difficult to see what the purpose of the extended length is when there’s nothing to justify it, not even the marginal genre flourishes that provided the fleeting highlights on its predecessor Afterburner. Take those away from Jackpot Juicer, and what’s left is a band operating on autopilot for an hour, churning out the material that’s expected of them rather than anything that could actively benefit them. On top of all else, that’s just such a boring way of going about making an album within a style that feels purpose-built to show off some kind of excitement and diversity. That’s not really the case in practice most of the time, but here, there isn’t even the intent. It’s just normal, predictable Dance Gavin Dance, bloated out unnecessarily to where it’s more of an ordeal to get through than usual. And while it’s almost too easy to continue harping on about how it exacerbates everything that doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t make it any less correct. It’s still bereft of satisfying melody or lyrics that aren’t utterly inane (though with song titles like One Man’s Cringe and Polka Dot Dobbins, would you expect anything less?), and still saddled with that clipped, airless production that proceeds to blanket the fundamental flaws at its core. It’s not good, purely on the basis that most of Dance Gavin Dance’s material isn’t, but with how much of an endeavour Jackpot Juicer is, even on a casual spin, it becomes even worse. Perhaps it’s best summed up when Pearson sings on the penultimate track Swallowed By Eternity, “It’s a miracle that I got this far”—you can say that again.
For (diehard) fans of: Dance Gavin Dance
‘Jackpot Juicer’ by Dance Gavin Dance is released on 29th July on Rise Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall