Dance Gavin Dance – Jackpot Juicer
Released: July 29, 2022
Will Swan – guitar
Andrew Wells – vocals/guitar
Jon Mess – screams
Tim Feerick – bass (RIP)
Matthew Mingus – drums
Tilian Pearson – (former) vocals
Content warning; mentions of sexual abuse.
2022 has been the most challenging year for Dance Gavin Dance.
In April, tragedy struck when long-time bassist Tim Feerick passed away suddenly. He was 34, having played with them full-time since 2012, first appearing on 2013’s Acceptance Speech, following a short stint with them from 2009 to 2010. Feerick was a great bassist, who tastefully played for their songs; much like his rhythm section buddy Matthew Mingus, always perfectly complimenting the vocals and Will Swan’s colourfully erratic, noodling guitar patterns. Personally, I always loved his solo bit before the finale of “Strawberry’s Wake,” and you really notice his tone and character on tracks here like “Feels Bad Man.” It’s safe to say that things will feel very different moving on after Feerick’s loss. No matter the shortcomings I have with Jackpot Juicer, he is absolutely not one of them, as it’s now his send-off record. My heart sincerely goes out to the remaining members of Dance Gavin Dance in regards to his passing.
Then come June, in news that echoed the truth behind the opening line of “Gospel Burnout”, serious accusations of sexual misconduct and assault were levelled at frontman Tilian Pearson. Ultimately, this resulted in him getting dropped by the band swiftly. Not long after that, an apology came from him to one of the women who came forward. This undoubtedly tarnishes DGD’s four stellar albums before this with the singer, inevitably dragging this new LP down for me. Without his controversy, my rating would’ve likely been a point or two higher. This is all a timely reminder to educate oneself about ongoing consent and power dynamics during intimacy and serious relationships.
Despite this, DGD pushed onward. In some ways, they had to. They can’t really stop. Not only due to their work ethic, but they’ve always forged onwards in the past following massive line-up changes. They’re one of, if not the biggest band on Rise, and such a machine must keep moving. (Not counting Spiritbox, as they licensed Eternal Blue to Rise, retaining full rights under their own label, Pale Chord Music.) Of course, Jackpot Juicer was already finished before Feerick passed and Pearson given the flick. It was already loaded, waiting for its chance come July 29th. So let’s blend it all up and dig in.
Things start off promising. ‘Untitled 2′ is a short introduction, one that calls back to ‘Untitled‘ from their 2007 debut LP, though this time its strings (arranged by Jason Turbin) instead of guitars. It then slides gracefully into ‘Cream of the Crop’ via a huge “hey you!” call, one that’s just dying for an audience to join in, no matter who’s fronting the band. It’s a decent, quintessential DGD track on every front: the choruses, the riffs and sounds Swan gets out of his guitar, the slick production (y’all know who did this album), the smooth transitions, and the great dynamics between verses, choruses and the heavier sections. It doesn’t get much more DGD than this! Hell, the colourful cover art was once again done by Swedish confidant, Mattias Adolfsson, because of course. The only thing that’s different for the band’s sound in this proper opener is that once we reach the bridge, and up till its end, those strings return making for a climatic finale lead by screamer Jon Mess. It’s big, it’s fun, and it’s a good first taste of Jackpot Juicer.
Yet that’s about as good as Jackpot Juicer gets, up until its rock solid final three-track run with the rare standout in-between these bookend points, that initial taste spiralling into excess. Artificial Selection (2018) and Afterburner (2020), my two favourite DGD albums – my old KYS reviews are hyperlinked – sat at fourteen and thirteen tracks respectively. That was already just under the length breaking point, but Jackpot Juicer shoots past that mark to be 18 tracks, reaching 63 minutes in total. Unsurprisingly, it’s just far too much. Now, people who are obsessed with DGD’s core sound may very well be in paradise here. After all, it’s more of what they already love. While I also really like that formula, it’s just so predictable here, to a fault. Plus, the lack of ambition and variation is a shame, not aiding the length in the slightest.
There are three categories Jackpot Juicer’s track-listing falls into for me. First is the good: ‘Cream Of The Crop’, ‘Ember’, ‘Feels Bad Man’, ‘Current Events’ and that previously mentioned awesome three-track finale: ‘Pray To God For Your Mother’, ‘Swallowed By Eternity’, which features Secret Band guitarist Martin Bianchini, and ‘Have A Great Life’. Second lot is the harmless, just-sorta-there, take ‘em or leave ‘em tunes: ‘Holy Ghost Spirit’, ‘Synergy’, ‘Pop Off’, and ‘Die Another Day’. These don’t do much for me, admittedly. Then thirdly, there’s the outright filler that should’ve been cut faster than an uneasy heart: literally every other song I haven’t named yet. Really, this record is the opposite of that one dope Sum 41 album: too much filler, not enough killer. Somewhere out in a multiverse near our own, DGD put out this exact same album, except that one is leaner with the seven songs from that first category, with maybe one or two from the second grouping. That wouldn’t have automatically fixed things to be suddenly perfect, but god, it would’ve been a snappier, better experience than this.
Another hill I find myself running up against here –just a lil’ bit of Kate Bush humour for you Stranger Things peeps – is how Afterburner felt like a victory lap. It acted like the cherry on top of their success, following their biggest and brightest records. (An album that actually found time to mix things up with Spanish singing, Swan rapping again, and using electronics.) The thing about a victory lap is that you can’t keep doing it. That’s like a band playing their farewell tour for years on end. Jackpot Juicer feels like this, just another victory lap, just another DGD run, unnecessarily so. I have nothing against long albums; one of my top three albums of 2022 is the immaculate False Light by White Ward, a longer listen than Jackpot Juicer. Or take that sweet new Cave In album! But this never earns its own length, feeling exhaustive due to the band barely doing anything new with their formula, a colossal missed opportunity. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony of this complaint coming up in a lengthy review, no need to point it out.)
Okay, some good news. Mess actually steals the show on a lot of these songs. It’s his vocal parts that struck me the most for this record, actually. Those coarse screams of The Rat Kings are often benefited by wicked supporting arrangements that make him sound like he’s on top of the world, fully possessed, and rambling absurdness as if he’s lost his damn mind. Well, more so than usual. And he’s got some lyrical gems here, too, including self-references like “Don’t listen to acceptance speeches” (“One Man’s Cringe”) or “We’re on the 10th. Is it the end? Or chapter 2?” (“Cream Of The Crop.”) Shout out to “No home for the evil skunk, ass acting like it never stunk, your face a butt” on the last song. Truly, he’s a wordsmith. The end of “Cream Of The Crop,” the aggressive metalcore blips of “Current Events”, the head-rush vocal runs on “Pray To God For Your Mother”, those jumpy punk bits on “Ember,” or that flowing stomp mid-section on “Feels Bad Man” – all defined by sick, blessed Mess moments. Moments that’ll still shine bright even without the vocals, as we’ll likely discover come this record’s inevitable instrumental version.
On the topic of vocalists, ‘One Man’s Cringe’ and ‘For The Jeers’ feature vocal contributions from guitarist Andrew Wells (of Eidola), who joined the band full-time officially in 2021. He’s really the only thing of note about those two particular songs. In fact, Wells is on a decent chunk of this record, a move I’m happy to see. He’s a weapon of a vocalist who suits DGD incredibly well, and every time he leads, like during the breakdown on ‘Have A Great Life,’ the album is all the better for it. Yet he still feels a little underutilised, as each time you hear him, you’re reminded of what more could’ve been done with his sweet voice. Though that’ll likely change now, and while I’m sure he’s wanted a heavier vocal presence in DGD, Wells probably didn’t want it to go down like this. The next Tree City sessions with him fronting cannot come soon enough!
If you’ll excuse the high-school essay-type conclusion, when I look back at this record, I’m left with incredibly mixed feelings about Jackpot Juicer. It’s anything but a jackpot win. Taking stock, I only like about one-third of the total track-listing, and even then, while they’re quite fun, nothing lives up to the heights they’ve reached before: “Death Of A Strawberry” and “On The Run”; “The Frozen One” and “Head Hunter”; “Evaporate” and “Nothing Shameful.” I yearned for more Andrew Wells, on what is just a very predictable Dance Gavin Dance record with no new ground explored, and it’s also way too long. Meaning that I can only see their 10th album, despite its seldom brilliance, as an embattled and underwhelming long-haul, one whose creators will likely move on from it with haste.
Dance Gavin Dance – Jackpot Juicer tracklisting:
1. Untitled II (Interlude)
2. Cream Of The Crop
3. Synergy feat. Rob Damiani of Don Broco
4. Holy Ghost Spirit
5. For The Jeers
7. Pop Off!
8. One Man’s Cringe
9. Feels Bad Man
10. Die Another Day
11. Two Secret Weapons
12. Polka Dot Dobbins
13. Long Nights In Jail
14. Back On Deck
15. Current Events
16. Pray To God For Your Mother
17. Swallowed By Eternity
18. Have A Great Life
Jackpot Juicer is out Friday July 29th via Rise Records. Pre-order here
Review by Alex Sievers