Artificial Selection is the act of curating bits and pieces of a natural organism in a way that directly benefits you. With that definition in mind Artificial Selection, the ninth studio album from Dance Gavin Dance is as aptly titled as it is phenomenal. The post-hardcore outfit once known for its tumultuous lineup, has found consistency with lead singer Tilian Pearson, allowing them to fine tune their sound, as opposed to making wholesale changes based off new members. On Artificial Selection the changes finally click, leading Dance Gavin Dance to release their most meticulous record to date.
Of the many criticisms levied at Dance Gavin Dance, an overly focused approach has never been one of them. Their very instrumentation, a whirling tornado of high notes and double bass has proven to be impenetrable for many a listener. Artificial Selection is the first record that feels thoroughly planned-out, which comes a surprise given its relative proximity to their previous record Mothership. They ditch many of their weaknesses and lean more heavily on their strengths while still pushing forward into new and interesting directions. Playing to the core group’s skillset, they have moved into an even stronger focus on melody, over the first couple tracks, particularly “Son of Robot,” “Midnight Crusade,” and “Care” Tilian’s voice, while not quite as glassy clear as it used to be, finds new melodies and dynamics with his recently acquired grit. As such the record itself is much more accessible than some previous entries, which comes through in spades on the pop-punk jam “Story of My Bros” where Dance Gavin Dance fully embraces the elements of pop-punk that were always teeming beneath the surface. Were it not for Jon Mess’s staccato screams the track could be mistaken for a hidden song on Fall Out Boy’s debut Take This to Your Grave, one of the holy grails of modern day pop-punk.
While the record does teeter towards a more summery, upbeat, and accessible sound than many of their previous records, they didn’t forget about the headbangers. “The Rattler” is by leaps and bounds the heaviest track they have ever released, beginning with a Gatling gun barrage of screams by Jon Mess. In fact, while his contributions on this album are somewhat more reserved than they have been in the past, Mess’s scream hasn’t withered a bit over the past thirteen years and his ear for finding the right words for a rhythm has only grown sharper. Lyrically the band still maintains their trademark nonsensical elements, particularly when Mess is screaming (shout out to the head scratcher “I’m smoking weed out of a pussy filled with money I like this” from “Story of My Bros”) Their ability to embrace the sillier elements of their genre comes across as endearing, and often hilarious, leading to memorable moments and lines that no other band has the gall to put on a track.
Perhaps the only complaint that could be levied against the record is that its 52 minute run time it turns into a bit of an endurance test toward the center before picking back up again for its final three tracks. Yet, even the less memorable tracks on this record easily could have been standouts on Mothership or Instant Gratification, making the complaint a minor one at best.
While the band is pushing in new directions, they make sure to throw nods to longtime fans. “Shelf Life” features former lead singer Kurt Travis in a soothing, bass laden groove session that would’ve fit perfectly on his final album with the band, Happiness. They also reprise sections of numerous hits on “Evaporate,” their first satisfying closer since “Purple Reign” off of Downtown Battle Mountain II. The track features lyrical and instrumental reprises of both “Alex English” and “Tree Village,” along with many others. The track itself was so cathartic that lead singer Tilian had to confirm over twitter that “Evaporate” was not the band’s swan song.
Dance Gavin Dance has already passed through more gauntlets than most bands ever face yet they remain undeterred in their desire to continuously evolve their sound. Artificial Selection shows them as more than capable of succeeding in pop-punk, metalcore, and even more technical post-hardcore. The record is an absolute triumph and will no doubt cement itself as not only a fan favorite, but as a genre defining record in due time.