Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Record Review: Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact



Synthesizing elements of dance and rock music certainly isn’t a new practice. For the past forty-odd years, artists ranging from Liquid Liquid, ESG, and Gang of Four to LCD Soundsystem, Cut Copy, and the Rapture have utilized elements popularized by their forebears to arrive at their own specialized sound. But in the case of the latter three (and an untold number of others), the influences are noticeable and in some instances accentuated simply for listener interaction, thus unknowingly engaging the audience in a kind of feedback loop where the band always has the upper hand with anyone contesting their authenticity. The theory being that a fan of one band should be more or less predisposed to welcome another similarly sounding band, whether what they’re doing in the first place is interesting or, god forbid, original enough to warrant consideration beyond these self-imposed confines.

This is the part where I tell you Gang Gang Dance is better than all these bands. I can’t sit back and attempt to convince anyone GGD are complete originals—indeed, their influences are often as transparent as those mentioned above. But they have, over the course of just a handful of full-lengths and EPs, arrived at a hybrid sound, blending these elements so ambitiously that each eventually becomes just another cog in the GGD trajectory toward transcendence. To these ears they’ve been doing it better than anyone working within this extremely malleable vein of experimentation since first reaching an artistic plateau with 2008’s Saint Dymphna. The Brooklyn band’s latest, Eye Contact, once again finds them working at the absolute peak of their powers; its inspiring mix of rock dynamics, dub atmospherics, house propulsion, and diverse world music tropes is as seamless as it’s ever been. Gang Gang Dance, for all their regurgitated genre exploitation and playful appropriation, are a genre of one.

Eye Contact’s eleven minute opener, “Glass Jar,” besides being the Song of the Year so far, is perhaps the purest distillation of the GGD aesthetic yet. It’s a slow-building display of the band’s quiet, uncommon command of a sonic repertoire vast in the knowledge of both dance music expanse and rock minutiae. It may be an oversimplification, then, to again draw on what I initially suggested in my review of Saint Dymphna a few years back, and that’s that GGD have finally and fully made good on the dance implications of the moniker. To be sure, they’ve always trafficked in a kind of beat-driven, tribal form of ecstatic electronic music—Saint Dymphna’s “House Jam” is nothing if not a boldly art-damaged, Madonna-worshipping, well, house jam (just ask Florence Welch)—and yet these same moves now feel intuitive to the band’s process. With Eye Contact, GGD have solidified their aesthetic to a staggering degree—let us not forget that these guys were once contemporaries of Animal Collective, Excepter, and Black Dice in the early-aughts Brooklyn experimental noise scene—and in the wake of “Glass Jar,” they prove just how democratic they can be with their aesthetic while retaining all the hallmarks of the accumulated GGD sound.

The most distinct hallmark, of course, is still singer Lizzi Bougatsos, who simply continues to grow in confidence and command as she’s given more expansive textural backdrops courtesy of Brian DeGraw, Josh Diamond, and Jesse Lee—who together lace synths, kits, keys, and pads into increasingly intriguing shapes. Which is to say that the somewhat patchwork sonic construction of Saint Dymphna has been jettisoned here in favor of a glossier, more approachable tapestry of sound. This certainly could have led the band to dispense with the bite they bore on more ornery occasions, but instead they’ve massaged a sleek sound from their set-up that plays to all their strengths, while retaining the pack mentality that exemplifies their doubled-up epithet. And to be sure, “Adult Goth” embodies this persona better than anything they’ve done since God’s Money. Over a stomping, near-industrial beat, Bougatsos leans into the track’s contours, exhaling bold pronouncements as DeGraw unfurls a tough yet supple synth hook, ringing out across the song’s dark expanse. “Chinese High” and “MindKilla” similarly build off the implications of their titles, the former attaching an Eastern-tinged keyboard melody to its soft gait, while the latter throbs with intensity, as Lee’s nearly imperceptible conflation of digital and analogue percussion spews ribbons of detail that Bougatsos punctuates with furious (if often times ambiguous) declarations.

The band subtly yet notably tweak the tone of Eye Contact in its middle third. “Romance Layers” is lover’s rock facilitated by years of daytime TV exposure, helped along in its soft-core bounce by Hot Chip vocalist Alexis Taylor, who transforms the whole endeavor into an uneasy Color Me Badd flashback (with all the guilty pleasures that implies). Meanwhile, “Sacer” spins in place as Bougatsos flirtatiously lilts through brightly lit synth framework. It’s an odd diversion that seems all the more like a set-up once closer “Thru and Thru” hits with perhaps the album’s most demonstrative percussive foundation. The boys get in on a bit of the vocal action here, accenting each pregnant pause with guttural chants, which Bougatsos then plays off, orating from what sounds like the bottom of a canyon. It’s a valiant, decisive end to a record with no shortage of enterprising flourishes. And it all speaks to Gang Gang Dance’s arrival as perhaps the best band in the world right now: evolution, while inevitable (for better or worse), can only yield audacious results when the creative process is built on an ideologically pure yet adventurous philosophy such as theirs. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess, but right now they’re so far ahead of the game that it’ll take their contemporaries a few years to make up the difference anyway. By which time they’ll have no doubt re-written the rules and moved on. [InRO]

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