MUSIC REVIEW – Eye Contact by Gang Gang Dance

By Joseph Marshall

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Gang Gang Dance are a four part boundary pushing collective from New York. Their name goes a long way towards describing their deep, tribal sound, which is at the same time upbeat and urban. In 2004, vocalist Nathan Maddox was killed when he was struck by lightning on the roof of a building in Chinatown, Manhattan. Despite this sudden change in line-up, the band have maintained a steady output. On Eye Contact, their first album since 2008’s ‘Saint Dymphna’, they present a collection of fun and accessible tunes whilst showing no sign of abandoning their worldly-collage sensibility.

The opener is a six minute Utopian build, which transforms perfectly into a high energy, runaway hoedown, with steel drums amongst the colourful array of instruments used. One more subtle element is the spoken lines, which are delivered in a sort of tuneless but charming imitation of a song, blending seamlessly into the recipe. When singer Lizzi Bougatsos comes in she sounds like she’s being whisked away with the carnival sound.

Track seven, ‘Romance Layers’, starts off promising great things but is marred by a cameo from Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, who falls disappointingly flat. Otherwise, it’s a nice piece with a laidback 80’s RnB feel, à la fellow New York project Blood Orange. ‘Chinese High’ asks ‘do you really wanna be like that?’ in a colourful chorus with a celebratory atmosphere. Here the squelchy ‘womp womp’ bass provides a streetwise, dubstepish edge. It’s a very danceable track, as is ‘Thru And Thru’ when it really gets down to business a third of the way in; breaking down, thinning out and going off on a tangent, before bringing the full workout back into the mix.

The single ‘Mindkilla’ is a floor stompingly persuasive piece of funky pop. It announces itself with an instantly mind-opening sound which cuts through whatever you were thinking about beforehand. It’s tough to identify but it could be a plucked guitar chord with a great deal of processing added. The middle 8 is a sublimely head shaking clash, taking crunk chanting and fusing it with a lazy bass synth, akin to something under Aphex Twin’s moniker, The Tuss. Topped with the drawn out and undeniably heartfelt lyric ‘looking at me’, it makes for a spine tingling moment on this thrillingly futuristic racket.

Then there’s the video; a devastating accompaniment, which moves from a Windows Media Player type visualisation to a full on psychedelic experience. The entity which appears to dance around at the end has a mesmerising quality unlike anything you’ve ever seen. And so it’s a shame that the second verse does spoil it a bit. It’s basically just a song within a song (Inception!), taking the form of a word-for-word rip-off of the lullaby ‘Mocking Bird’, which is presumably past its copyright expiry date. Just one line would have been a cool touch but including the whole thing ends up sounding silly.

The most poignant moment of the record happens on ‘Thru And Thru’. A combination of undulating Middle Eastern wailing and Bougatsos’ voice, it is treated with a phaser effect, creating the mood of someone searching and pining for peace. Bougatsos’ heavily accented vocals are comparable to those of Lovefoxxx from CSS, the difference being that CSS are actually from outside the USA. The fact that this is an album without borders though is one of its strongest aspects. Gang Gang have a distinctly global quality, which is played up on ‘∞’, an interlude featuring an Italian crooner which has just the right nihilistic tone when juxtaposed with the sincerity of the previous track, the long intro ‘Glass Jar’. It’s not world music, more music of the world. The amalgamation of cultures the band represent in their sound likely comes from a combination of touring and living in a cosmopolitan environment.

If you’re not sure what ‘∞’ is about, all of the interludes on this record are named with the infinity symbols ‘∞’, ‘∞ ∞’ and ‘∞∞∞’, in order of respective appearance. On ‘∞ ∞’ the group show their experience of a licensing deal with Warp records, coming out with something much like Scottish beat maestro Hudson Mohawke produced under the same imprint, on his seminal Polyfolk Dance EP. 4AD, the latest people to sign them, are calling this their fourth album but there are a number of contradictory sources on the matter. One thing’s for sure – Gang Gang have had a pretty long career thus far, with records on a handful of labels and plenty of other material to discover.

Something Gang Gang Dance do really well is play noises often considered trite or too pop in a way which invokes a strong emotional response. They are surely masters of this transcendental skill and Eye Contact is a fine and dramatic display of that, which will have you rejoicing in their uniquely catchy approach to song writing.

8 OUT OF 10

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