Review Summary: Gang Gang Dance take no prisoners.
"I can hear everything. It's everything time." So begins Eye Contact
, the newest album from New York's Gang Gang Dance. It's almost as perfect an opening line as "Get a drink, have a good time now, welcome to paradise" was for Since I Left You
; it's also a conveniently concise summary of the group's exhilaratingly kaleidoscopic music. Because Eye Contact
sound like everything all at once, simultaneously worldly and familiar. It's remarkable, really, the way these songs take listeners on adventurous journeys to unfamiliar places, all while being some of the most primally exciting music of the year. Not that this is anything particularly new for Gang Gang Dance; the band has always seemed to be at the vanguard of musical exploration, drawing influences from countless different territories, both sonic and geographic. But Eye Contact
goes beyond the worldbeat experimentation of Saint Dymphna
and shoots straight for the sublime. It's "dance music" in the giddiest, most fundamental sense of the term - minus any of the typical signifiers of that genre.
Which means that you'd be very hard-pressed to hear any of the tracks off of this brilliant record in a club setting, not just because the beats don't really fit easily into a DJ set, but also because this stuff is so resolutely unhip...to the point, of course, that it becomes more intoxicating and, well, interesting
than other musical trends that may be floating around at any given time. Tracks like "Chinese High" and "MindKilla" are filled with cheap, plinking synthesizers that, with their blatant artificiality, call to mind gaudy neon lights and "Remember the '80s" specials on VH1 Classic. But instead of coating their decade-specific references with the ironic detachment and lo-fi production that has made chillwave so lucrative, the band lets every brazenly garish arpeggio ring with utmost clarity. Which would smack of irritating affectedness if the music was as flammable as its stylistic touches, which, thankfully, it isn't. Across ten tracks and 48 blissful minutes, Eye Contact
is maddeningly consistent while remaining consistently unpredictable.
Take, for instance, album opener "Glass Jar", which begins with warm ascending chords, a woozy synthesizer line, and Yamantaka Eye-esque vocals. The song builds gradually, layers delicately laid atop one another, until it's a gorgeous, sinuous wash of sound. And then, just as it hits a peak, a rambunctious beat drops in, then a ridiculously catchy keyboard riff, then steel drums, then Lizzi Bougatsos' indelible and inimitable vocals, until the track sounds a bit like an insane outtake from the already-batshit Deep Cuts
. Bougatsos' singing is a miraculously chameleonic thing, guttural, sweet, and ferocious all at once. "Don't be the mind killaaaa
," she wails halfway through the album, stretching that last word to its breaking point. It's a telling line, expressing a very real fear of inhibition. But Bougatsos has a rare ability to sound in command even when she's at the brink of hysteria; this composure and assuredness is one of the key elements holding Eye Contact
's intricate sonic tapestry together. Whether lending some levity to a sultry funk number or injecting frightening amounts of energy into stuttering bangers, Bougatsos gives the album's wild patchwork of ideas a laser-sharp focus without sacrificing any of its polychromatic appeal.
And boy, is Eye Contact
polychromatic. Hell, it's even multilingual
; "Chinese High" opens with the warped sound of a language-learning tape repeating "Wo hui shuo zhong wen. Zhao shang hao," over and over again, and first transitory track "∞" pairs some lovely Greek singing with canned bell sounds. Listening to these moments, which shouldn't work at all but somehow always do
, one gets the sense that Gang Gang Dance don't just avoid doing the same thing twice, but that they're physically incapable of repeating themselves. Which is probably for the best; if you only catch lightning in a bottle once, you might as well try catching something else instead. Like, uh, steel drums, kitschy synthesizers, and some manically gleeful musical anarchy. That'll do.