There is a seemingly deep irony in Dance Gavin Dance naming their ninth album Artificial Selection. Their sound has evolved so naturally over their career; how can it be anything other than the invisible hand of fate guiding them with great care and dexterity? While it can be easy to believe they were blessed with an insight that reaches far beyond mere mortals, it does not give them the credit they deserve. In reality, their evolution is due to the elements and collaborators they include being selected by hands that deftly understand what Dance Gavin Dance is at its core. It is artificial selection that feels so logical, so understandable, that it imitates nature by trimming the fat in order for the lean and efficient to forge on and thrive.
As every album does for the band, Artificial Selection elevates the group to a new level in their own league. The sonics are the best they’ve ever been, with the clarity that the band is known for somehow ratcheted up for every instrument, and the music compliments that. “Care”, the third single from the album, throws bongos and a whistle into the mix of an emotionally ebbing/flowing track about the idea that someone you’re not with anymore may still have feelings for you. “The Rattler” is an ode to mid-00’s Blood Brothers style spaz-core and is the heaviest song that the band has done to date. “Story of My Bros” sounds like the bands take on pop-punk, only this song has Jon Mess screaming the words “I’m smoking weed out of a pussy filled with money and like tests it’s under control.” Material that’s so zany and scattered truly should not work on any level but the band always pull it off, even going so far as to make it sound easy and cohesive. The clarity in composition and direction the band displays while still finding ways to surprise and dazzle is astounding.
With so much talk of progress and forging the path forward, it’s fascinating that this album references the band’s past in a way that none of their previous works have. They’ve always had arcs with their song titles, often times having multiple parts in a series and sometimes leading into new areas free from part numbering, but Artificial Selection pushes it one step further. It has callbacks peppered throughout, such as Jon Mess mentioning ‘a can of broccoli’ on the song “Slouch”, referencing the line ‘Accept fresh, fresh can of broccoli’ from Downtown Battle Mountain II’s “Elder Goose” and a fantastic feature from ex-vocalist Kurt Travis on the beautiful song “Shelf Life”. A less obvious reference is at the very start of the album on the opener “Son of Robot”. As the song starts, you can hear flute underneath the echoing clean guitars, which is an auditory allusion to the flute at the beginning of “Young Robot” from Their previous album Mothership.
The most interesting of these callbacks are those included in the last minute of album closer “Evaporate”, which features an excellent vocal feature from Andrew Wells of Eidola. It starts with Tilian singing the chorus of “Me and Zoloft Get Along Just Fine” from their self-titled album, followed by Jon quoting lyrics from Downtown Battle Mountain (Surprise! I’m from Cuba, Everyone Has One Brain) and the title track from Acceptance Speech. Tilian then quotes lines from Downtown Battle Mountain (…And I Told Them I Invented Times New Roman), Happiness (Tree Village), Instant Gratification (We Own the Night), and Downtown Battle Mountain (The Backwards Pumpkin Song). Then the song closes out with Jon and Tilian coming together to sing “Well don’t it feel good? You got what you paid for!” from Alex English, circling back to their self-titled album. Even better, if you’re listening to Artificial Selection and have the band’s albums queued up in alphabetical order, “Alex English” from Dance Gavin Dance will start immediately after “Evaporate” ends. It’s rather comical that an entire section dedicated to giving fans who long for old sounds/singers “what they paid for” in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, ends up leading into the song that introduced the beginning of the changes that those different groups of fans long for. It may just be a nod to their self-titled album turning ten years old this year, but it’s fun to speculate in a situation as pointed and specific as this.
Even in a discography of albums that stand out as their own entities, Artificial Selection feels like a milestone in the band’s career that bears an easily read inscription. “We’ve been to many different places and you’re free to visit them whenever you want as often as you want. However, it’s time for us to move on from those memories and forge new ones. We will not be where we once were. We will never be there again. You can be with us in the here and now or dwell on what once was.” You are now a part of the band’s process of artificial selection. They’re giving you the decision of trimming the fat and thriving with them or being left behind to stagnate and dwell on what once was, weighing yourself down and choosing to die instead of evolving with them. Don’t waste the chance to continue the journey of a lifetime for a lifetime.
Artificial Selection is out June 8th via Rise Records. You can purchase it digitally and physically through the band’s MerchNow store.