Gang Gang Dance Eye Contact

[4AD; 2011]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: dance, gang, electronic, jamband, komische, worldbeat, reggaeton
Others: Little Dragon, Rainbow Arabia, Games, Matrix Metals, David Byrne & Brian Eno, The Crainium, Apple Whisper bot

“I can hear everything, it’s everything time.”

With that pronouncement, the 5th full-length from astral dilettantes and sometime Brooklyn residents Gang Gang Dance slowly lifts from the launchpad with quiet grace into the 11-minute opener “Glass Jar.” It’s all lens flares and gentle percolations of field-recorded spoken-word snippets, synthesized glissandi, tinkling chimes, and teased cymbals as the atmosphere thins from blue to bruise black. Some four minutes in, the mothership slowly rotates on its axis and the more ardent arpeggios of a navigation computer begin to flash. With a distant stellar destination in sight, the track erupts with a joyous, driving hyperjump halfway along its length and we are propelled into the brilliant all-nite-flite realm of Gang Gang Dance at their best, wrapped about with Liz Bougastos’ ethereal cooing and stabs of charmingly cheep-preset-keys’ steel drums and Fripped-out guitar. It’s the Mos Eisley Cantina house band high on 21st-century spice and a brilliant introduction to a typically gorgeous, strange album whose twists and turns nevertheless form a tightly coordinated intergalactic journey.

Gang Gang Dance have always been keen on crafting album-length voyages for their listeners, but this full-length follow-up to the scintillating Saint Dymphna has an even tighter trajectory. Saint Dymphna was a glorious Aladdin’s cave of sonic gems, revisiting woozy My Bloody Valentine atmospheres displaced to dancefloors here, there famously collaborating with grime boss Tinchy Stryder before he hit high rotation, just for instance. Eye Contact has many of these elements, but couches them more comfortably and consistently, cruising from alpha to omega with just a few diversionary pit-stops, barely stopping to play stylistic hopscotch across the Kaoss pads of their formidably cosmic imaginations.

The album is built around three interludes marked by a number of lemniscates (infinity signs to you and me) reminding us that it’s everything-time because anything goes, but only for a while. The first, “∞,” is a reprieve from the breathless opener, a faded recording of a Latin crooner cocooned by electronic susurrations. This hushed episode paves the way for “Adult Goth,” a track that, when it breaks down, is reminiscent of the labyrinth-rave, Goblinesque postures of Gatekeeper: a haunted gothic castle of pulsing dance music burnished with winding arabesques and Bougastos’ mournful, horizonward voice.

The pleasure in these tracks is the collision of textures and sonic digressions embedded in a tight weave, and so it makes delicious sense that “Chinese High” should open with a stuttering piece of sampling that sounds like Scanner watching CCTV (the aptly named Chinese state broadcasting organization, that is). It’s yet another curio turned over in Gang Gang Dance’s endlessly fascinating junkshop, a harking back to Byrne and Eno’s 30-year-old cutup and cookoff My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (and a reminder of this seminal recording’s enduring relevance), a tiny tangent that could in its own right form an epigrammatic chapter like the ∞-tracks.

Instead, it prefixes a weaker point in the album, if only because the ensuing sunny exotica has been cribbed so effectively, so completely by imitators like Rainbow Arabia. Whether it’s a copy of a copy, a good or bad copy, or not, it’s a peppy calypsonian-soca number that feels hot hot hot but falls frequently on the brighter side of glib. Just as contemporary revisionist visionaries Games or the more grittily warped Matrix Metals do their Jan Hammer variations best when touched by a subtly corrosive dose of acid, Gang Gang Dance’s adventures into West Indian milieu and the occidental, urban transpositions of that musical culture deserve and proliferate in a more strident, slightly brow-furrowed atmosphere.

Cue “MindKilla,” whose frenetic, vamping reggaeton workout the cap fits but, thankfully, will polarize dancehalls into new preachers and the puzzled. A final siren, another lift from the urban mindscape, winds out and we’re rinsed out enough for another interlude. “∞ ∞” lets listeners down softly, offering a hazy sampler jam-out cribbed from Hype Williams before a slick segue into the slicker brown sugar slow-jam soul of “Romance Layers,” worthy of Grace Jones but, without vocals, begging for D’Angelo. It’s something Not Not Fun’s Amanda Brown would churn out if she abandoned the sand-filled 4-track tape recorder and, let’s be honest, could sing in tune. Indeed, here, to duet with Bougastos, Gang Gang Dance recruit the sweet and breathy laryngal flutterings of famous choirboy and Hot Chip member Alexis Taylor.

Bougastos is possessed by Kate-Bush-priestess-of-Avalon for “Sacer,” pining away, singing, “She can’t find her way” over a lush pasture of adroit bass and guitar and synths, alternately cathedral- and games-console choral. The penultimate track, “∞ ∞ ∞,” reprises this ethereality and lyrical motif even as it forms a more insistent warning of the coming end. Nodding in the direction of a clear antecedent to Bougastos’ vocal style — Dead Can Dance’s vocalist and 4AD alumnus Lisa Gerrard — this track, well in orbit but at the foot of the pyramid, threatens to flesh out into a full setpiece. Instead, it passes the baton to a moody, melancholic closer, “Thru and Thru.”

Piping and marching sinistrally: big ominous chords, pounding toms, and percussion lifted from a wake soundtracked by Omar Souleyman goosestep Bousgastos’ elegies to a Golgotha of windblown synth arpeggios and muezzin wails. It closes on a dime with Radiohead’s favorite synthespian voice actor, Apple’s ‘Whisper’ text-to-speech voice, uttering “live forever” — a characteristically enigmatic bookend to what began with an equally enigmatic pronouncement in unadulterated human speech, flecked mirrors of which pepper the whole. These two promises or inducements to hear everything and live forever, to pay witness to the mysterious, pervasive presences of voice and music that inform Gang Gang Dance’s sonic cosmogony, bracket a remarkable, seductive album realized to the fullest: a finely-grained, curated collection cradling in a finite span two handfuls of crystalline musical craft. For anyone with ears tired of the sirens, the red herrings, surfing the more visible peaks of the endless ocean in search of something worth combing over, you’ll find this spacebound lighthouse a good place to put your feet up; and get up on your feet, if so inclined. Thoroughly recommended.

Links: Gang Gang Dance - 4AD

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