I have zero contextual knowledge of Gang Gang Dance. Here are some facts I know about Gang Gang Dance:
- They opened for Animal Collective at their 2009 Brixton Academy gig, which I was supposed to go to, but didn’t;
- I have, in the past, confused them for Passion Pit (reason unknown—maybe the common strand is their hyperactive vocalists?), and also Yeasayer (more easily done, given their shared membership of the worldbeat genre on Wikipedia).
Which, I suppose, means my appreciation of their newest album, Eye Contact, is totally tabula rasa. Like some of the most stunning AC moments, Eye Contact emerges from a primordial digital soup. A few painterly strokes of synth, sent from outer space. Gentle ticking of cymbals like a car cooling off on the driveway. Indecipherable, Damo Suzuki-esque chatter lurking at the back of the mix. The other reference point for “Glass Jar”, I suppose, is Tortoise’s “TNT”, which coalesces in a similar manner. Eventually the sounds take on greater form; the wisps and fragments turn into a glassy motif, and Jesse Lee’s drums do a serviceable impression of Nick Mason, in the intro to Pink Floyd’s “Time”. Then, in the final five minutes (the song is eleven minutes long), vocalist Lizzi Bougatsos steps in with her otherworldly tones, and the arrangement behind her settles into a slightly manic, trance-informed jig. “Glass Jar” is undoubtedly one of the most intense and overwhelming entry points to an album I have heard for some time.
From there on in, Eye Contact is a mesmerising. There are seven actual songs, interspersed with utterly incongruous transitional pieces. As an example, the first, “∞”, features what sounds like Orthodox Greek chanting over ambient murmurings. Its cousins, “∞∞” and “∞∞∞”, are similarly extrasensory.
Consequently, the real magic lies in the songs. Eye Contact melds South Asian melodies to sonics which alternately recall dingy clubs in Shoreditch, the tropical rainforests of Pandora, and a hunk of baile funk to boot. It’s heady stuff, and at times you’re left almost gasping for air, but, significantly, the band never lose sight of their audience, and never get stuck up their own behinds. Frequently, it sounds like what might pass for a Bollywood soundtrack in the year 3000 (imagine the nth sequel to Enthiran), or what might ensue if M.I.A. decided to embrace pop music again, rather than flirting with bursts of industrial noise. The concluding passage of “Chinese High” swaps the swampy funk of the opening part for a glossy curtain of 1980s prog, with cascades of guitar and keyboard, underpinned by Lee’s ricocheting drums. On “MindKilla”, Bougatsos’s voice is like a jet of water propelled out of a hosepipe, subtly modulating in profile as it is disturbed by external factors—in this case, the army of squelching and buzzing and cooing synthesisers.
The second half of Eye Contact is more laid-back. “Romance Layers” features a guest turn on the microphone from Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, who gives the digitally approximated slap bass and hyperactive neo-soul a lesson in soothing seduction. Like every instrument on the album, Taylor’s voice is heavily treated, rippling out into a thousand particles at the end of each phrase. The final song, “Thru and Thru”, sees Bougatsos taking on the Kate Bush role of tormented woman of the moors, ululating above a constantly shifting instrumental backdrop, which turns from a classical Indian ditty into a carnival of funk, and then into a sparser, percussion-heavy sequence. It’s bewildering, and so far into the matrix it’s probably learnt to breathe in carbon dioxide. As all the coagulating elements recede, leaving only a mournful sarod wailing into the night, it’s not hard to feel shaken by Eye Contact’s assault on the senses.
Gang Gang Dance’s fifth album won me over, bulldozing over my initial trepidation surrounding this kind of hippy cultish, one-world music. Eye Contact is compositionally accomplished, and does not abuse its delightfully methylated production to the detriment of melody and song structure. It never pushes into proggy abandon, even as it plunges into foreign climes, and it will continue to perplex and challenge me for some time yet, I foresee. I would say that a trip to the band’s back catalogue is very much in order.