On their RAWWAR EP, Gang Gang Dance assimilated their vaguely neo-tribal, electronics-warped sounds into a rhythmic context fit for the club scene. This approach was read by some as an attempt to cash-in on the cultural cache earned from the critical reception of God's Money, their significantly more abstracted breakthrough. The RAWWAR EP was only intermittently successful, but its opening track “Nicoman,” with its stark beats, slick strings, and nearly-rapped vocals, was deeply satisfying, placing complicated rhythms and unusual scales onto a track with the urgency of an M.I.A. cut.
On Saint Dymphna, those club leanings are more fully expanded and developed, filtering the band’s search for esoteric sounds through a slick, beat-heavy framework. The album simultaneously suggests Crystal Castles, My Bloody Valentine, and Black Dice, while being draped in Timbaland-worthy levels of production -- it even features grime rapper MC Tinchy Stryder on "Princes." But even when Stryder’s introducing himself with the wonderfully blunt “Oh shit, Gang Gang,” it doesn't sound incongruous. It’s not that his presence isn’t initially jarring – it’s that the moment of surprise is executed with such conviction that, despite the construction daring you to consider him merely a gimmick, it sounds right at home.
The album jumps around stylistically, but it’s all done with an effortlessly enveloping flow. Indeed, rather than sounding like an exercise in trendy appropriation, the album revalidates its forward-thinking pedigree by balancing it with the kind of innovation lauded on God's Money. Lead single “House Jam” remains almost entirely true to its literalist title, drenched in shimmering keyboard textures and supported by a straightforward beat, with lightly manipulated coos serving as a subtle hook, guitar flashing around the edges and hinting at melodies. The track pulls off neon-coated cool with ease, Liz Bougatsos’ simultaneously earthy and ethereal vocal lines providing a strangely emotive, spiritual pull.
With its glossy production and 4/4 structures, this is Gang Gang’s most accessible work to date, but their endlessly inventive melodies and continual search for new textures show that they're not simply trading in one style for another. Instead, Saint Dymphna takes now-trite conceptions of the dance floor as religious ecstasy and revitalizes them, achieving this without relying on tropes of transcendence -- such as those found in trance or pysch -- while remaining fresh, urban, and lithe. It’s hip calcified, transformed from posturing into legitimate and exciting experience; it's the channeling of well-defined musical expressions into a more powerful, unified direction.
1. Bebey 2. First Communion 3. Blue Nile 4. Vacuum 5. Princes 6. Inners Pace 7. Afoot 8. House Jam 9. Interlude (No Known Home) 10. Desert Storm 11. Dust