Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Gang Gang Dance ‎– Saint Dymphna (2008)

Style: Abstract, Psychedelic Rock, Tribal, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Warp Records

01.   Bebey
02.   First Communion
03.   Blue Nile
04.   Vacuum
05.   Princes
06.   Inners Pace
07.   Afoot
08.   House Jam
09.   Interlude (No Known Home)
10.   Desert Storm
11.   Dust

Drums, Sampler, Vocals – Tim Dewit
Guitar, Guitar Synthesizer, Sampler – Josh Diamond
Keyboards, Synth, Drum [Drum Pad], Sampler, Effects – BDG
Vocals, Rototoms, Horn [Carnival Horn], Recorder, Steel Drums – LZA
Music By – Gang Gang Dance
Lyrics By – LZA
Mastered By – Joe Lambert
Mixed By – Matt Boynton (tracks: 10), Sean Maffuci (tracks: 1 to 9, 11)
Recorded By – Chris Coady (tracks: 10), Matt Boynton (tracks: 1 to 8, 11), Sean Maffuci (tracks: 9)
Recorded By [Additional Recording] – Sean Maffuci
Photography By – Katie L. Thompson
Art Direction – We Bored Ragz

Gang Gang Dance's third album, God's Money, remains a revelation three years after its release. Pouring the muffled art-beats of 2004's Revival of the Shittest and the extended space-jams of 2004's Gang Gang Dance into structured songs, the record was starry and dreamy, yet also taut and focused. It made evident what was implicit from the start-- that these four hyperactive talents with underground pedigrees (see the Cranium, SSAB Songs, Angelblood, et. al.) could funnel their ideas into melodic pop without diluting them. 
It also suggested that Gang Gang Dance might become an all-out pop band. But three EPs since God's Money have defied such expectations. Though gems like "Nicoman" did surface, Hillulah, Retina Riddim, and RAWWAR were mostly mysterious experiments akin to the band's earlier releases. Not that any of them were anything less than good-- but none were the pop epiphany the band on God's Money seemed poised for. 
It turns out they had been working on that all along, and with Saint Dymphna their patience pays off. So clear and shiny it makes God's Money seem murky by comparison, this is predominantly a relative dance-pop album. But it still sounds completely like Gang Gang Dance, preserving their core of new-wave synths, tribal beats, otherworldly singing, and Residents-style loops. The biggest difference this time around is a lack of cavernous atmospheres. Here every sound and beat is laid bare, with no heavy reverb blanketing the songs like fog. The newfound clarity produces neither thinness nor tedium, but simply a direct, unadulterated power.
That power is clear immediately, when opening instr 
umental "Bebey" melts into the rhapsodic "First Communion". Here Lizzi Bougatsos' dreamy poetry ("Prisms have kissed my lids/ Sea salt has rubbed on my hips") and the band's coiled rhythms (particularly the beat-and-synth workouts of band MVP Brian DeGraw) hit on a momentum that could easily be the album's climax. But so many peaks pop up along Saint Dymphna's continuous stream that it's tough to catalogue them all. 
Two moments in particular show that the more Gang Gang Dance change, the more they stay the same. After a lengthy synth opening, "Princes" becomes an actual hip-hop song featuring a rap from Tinchy Stryder. Sure, it's slightly jarring to hear his pulsing cadence paired with Bougatsos' ethereal howls, but the band's familiar elements-- especially Josh Diamond's wiry guitar line-- fit snugly around him. Even more surprising is "House Jam", a gleeful rip-off of Madonna circa "Holiday". But put the track on repeat and you might be more surprised that you never realized how well Gang Gang Dance's sound could work as 80s disco-pop. 
Saint Dymphna ends with "Dust", a beatific instrumental that carries the band away like a magic carpet. Often when a group with avant-garde leanings flies close to the pop sun, the results can sound forced or off-key. But since accessible melodies have always bubbled beneath their music's surface, Gang Gang Dance's evolution sounds supremely logical. And anyone who thought that the cloudy sound of previous albums was a smokescreen should think again-- it turns out the band behind that curtain really is made up of wizards. 
Marc Masters / Pitchfork

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