Sunday, June 26, 2011
Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact
01. Glass Jar
02. Interlude 1
03. Adult Goth
04. Chinese High
06. Interlude 2
07. Romance Layers
09. Interlude 3
10. Thru And Thru
Gang Gang Dance started as free-form noiseniks; over the years, they've managed to mellow out without moving to the center-- evolving into purveyors of pan-cultural body-music, marrying club beats with lyrics about communing with the dead. Like Arthur Russell before them, they give equal floorspace to the spiritual and the sensual. By those loopy standards, Eye Contact-- the group's latest album-- is Gang Gang Dance's finest, weirdest, and most uplifting statement yet.
Eye Contact doesn't kick off so much as it wakes up, easing into existence via 11-minute opener, "Glass Jar". Synth and piano arpeggios shine through the stereo field, percolating through a filter of jazz percussion before settling into a propulsive Eastern groove. It's a song about reincarnation. It's "Darkstar" and Alice Coltrane and the Boredoms in one blissed-out burst of sound. They're not much of a singles band, though. Gang Gang Dance's vision tends to require a larger, album-length, canvas. Since 2005's God's Money, each of the band's records has played as a single piece-- each song slurring into the next, building toward an ecstatic climax, mirroring the feel of a concert performance or a DJ set. Eye Contact holds to that ideal. Seven songs are strung together into a single composition, bound by abstract ligatures.
But it's an improvement of the formula. On Eye Contact, Gang Gang strike a better balance of song craft and atmosphere. The band's previous record, Saint Dymphna, had admirable futurist-pop ambitions-- collaging elements of hyphy, grime, techno, and contemporary R&B into a psychedelic stew-- but it sometimes came off overcooked. The instrumentals were often bursting with soupy sonic details, while Gang Gang's passes at honest-to-goodness pop-- other than Kate Bush-homage "House Jam"-- were at times stiff and over-considered.
Eye Contact is considerably more relaxed. It's a smooth and moody record. The composed parts are more memorable. The interludes are, well, shorter. Following Dymphna, the band's original drummer, Tim Dewit, parted ways with the group. His distinctive, stuttering rhythms are missed, but his replacement, Jesse Lee-- a steadier and harder hitting player -- brings a more consistent feel to the rhythm section. Ariel Pink bassist Tim Koh adds some quiet storm-style bass to the airy and melodic "Chinese High". Hot Chip frontman Alexis Taylor wanders onto the mic during "Romance Layers" to croon over some a new jack-era soul.
And yet this is not a pop record, per se, but the stuff of pop records collected, melted down, and then dribbled Jackson Pollock-style onto a canvas. Singer Lizzi Bougatsos borrows melodies from Indian pop, Brian DeGraw swipes some sub bass from the UK underground, and guitarist Josh Diamond nicks some riffs from North Africa. But Gang Gang aren't just collecting exotic hooks for the sake of bragging rights. The band seems to consciously gravitate toward cultures and genres where music is still overtly tethered to spirituality. Maybe it's because they miss their friends. Eye Contact is a ghost-heavy record. Two songs are dedicated to fallen New York art scene comrades. "Glass Jar" pays homage to former band mate Nathan Maddox, who was killed by a lightning bolt in 2002. "Sacer" is a shout-out to artist Dash Snow, who perished in 2009, from a drug overdose.
Eye Contact dials back the aural fog, at least by Gang Gang standards. It's a tighter and more focused record that pares back the band's habit for noisy embellishment and psychic jewelry to reveal taught rhythms and catchy hooks. "In the past, I imagined our music being more about closing your eyes and escaping," explained DeGraw during a recent interview. "This one felt wide-eyed, as if we were just staring at the listener." Whether they're comfortable with the outside world is less clear. "Better call the neurosurgeon," sings Bougatsos on album closer "Thru and Thru". "Our dreaming space it is open."...www.pitchfork.com