Dance Gavin Dance, the Sacramento act who headline a sold-out Middle East show on Friday, put what for some is a dealbreaker right up front: The quintet includes a pair of lead singers, the sweet-voiced Tilian Pearson, who provides the “clean” vocals, and the bilious Jon Mess, whose throat-scraping yelps are the “dirty” vocals. It’s a studies-in-contrast pairing that’s been used by a lot of bands that spotlight the concerns of jittery, gimlet-eyed young men — post-hardcore acts, emo outfits, synth-heavy bands. Though their roots are in various genres, all derive their idea of musical beauty from raw power.
For some listeners, that kind of setup is a giant blinking stop sign. But “Mothership,” the seventh album from Dance Gavin Dance, resists pigeonholing, and the chaos lurking behind its double frontmen invites closer listening. While there are echoes of expansive recent rock acts like the Mars Volta and Coheed and Cambria, both of which combine prog’s opened-mind scope with heavier sounds borrowed from hardcore punk and metal, on songs like the pummeling “Deception” and the woozily defiant “Here Comes the Winner,” “Mothership” offers surprising twists. “Inspire the Liars” splits from an arpeggio-led crunch into a dancefloor-ready breakdown that sounds ready to be remixed into a 12-minute sweaty freakout; “Flossie Dickey Bounce” veers from a thrashy broadside into something that recalls the wounded sensitivity of Death Cab for Cutie. “Exposed” is probably as close as the band gets to a straight-up ballad, its sparkling-icicle synths playing off Pearson’s reach-for-the-stars vocal. Throughout, the guitar work of founding member Will Swan is startling, with frenetic solos that dart around the dueling frontmen, ramping up the intensity until it’s dizzying.
At times “Mothership” can get a little wearying. Part of that comes from the grab-you-by-the-shoulders urgency of the paired vocalists, who can be a bit much even once you’ve bought into their good-guy bad-guy conceit. There’s also the prog-rock-derived tendency to throw as much material as possible — instruments, movements, whatever — into the shortest tracks. But giving it a spin or two shines a light on a swath of heavy, ambitious, and sometimes witty rock that seizes on the past few decades of edge-dwelling music, places it all in a blender, and puts the speed on high.
Dance Gavin Dance play the Middle East Downtairs on Oct. 7.Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.