[7 January 2014]
“To begin with I would recommend closing your eyes.”
It’s a great recommendation and introduction to SUM/ONE, the debut album from Gang Gang Dance member Brian DeGraw. On albums like Gang Gang Dance’s breakthrough Eye Contact, DeGraw helped produce twitching music that landed somewhere between experimental, pop, and dance. Under the moniker bEEdEEgEE, DeGraw has decided to wade into even stranger waters, with a more dance oriented album that, despite a few lackluster tracks, is often as enjoyable as it is unhinged.
The opening track with the aforementioned wonderful piece of advice is called “Helium Anchor”. For the first minute or so it’s SUM/ONE at its most whimsical. But once it drops airy synths and the monologue on how to best enjoy the album, it rolls into darker and dancier territory. SUM/ONE isn’t just filled with head-bobbing moments; the duality of “Helium Anchor” is present on a good portion of these tracks. DeGraw has an ear for pleasant melodies, but often contrasts them with strange backgrounds. The track after “Helium Anchor” is “Like Rain Man”, and its pulsing synths are a bit reminiscent of Disclosure hooks, but cascading keyboard lines and morphed vocals take the song to a weirder plane. Even at its most accessible SUM/ONE doesn’t shy away from experimentation. The fantastically catchy “Overlook” relies on smooth vocals, but the bridge is built off of a disconcerting synth line that is liable to blindside unaware listeners.
The constantly shifting quality inherent to these songs is both SUM/ONE’s best trait but also causes flawed moments, as not every song is graceful in transitional periods. “(F.U.T.D) Time of Waste” starts promisingly with Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor laying down his fluttering vocals, and the second half of the seven minute long song is one of SUM/ONE’s most danceable moments. But the two sides of the song never congeal, and the track ends up feeling disjointed. “Flowers” suffers from a similar problem. The rather airy and meandering front half unfortunately makes a long wait for the much stronger second half. It almost feels like DeGraw has too many ideas buzzing around in his head to get them all cohesively down on tape. The track “Bricks”, sandwiched between “F.U.T.D” and “Flowers”, has small sections of excellence overridden seconds later by the sudden appearance of musical motifs that feel forced.
Still, DeGraw shows that, when focused, he’s a hell of a producer. The cloudy beat on “Quantum poet Riddim” is giddy fun and a few of DeGraw’s best moments combine bangers with melodies inspired by video games. SUM/ONE’s best track is “Empty Vases”, where Animal Collective, Gang Gang’s most accessible moments, and a good helping of vaporwave get blended together. The track begins with a calm meditative phase before delicate guitars and a smooth beat kick in. The track also employs L.A. based singer Douglas Armour to great effect. Armour gives a fantastic and uplifting performance as DeGraw builds the track to its spaced out finale. A bit of streamlining and editing would help DeGraw on future releases, but with songs like “Empty Vases” DeGraw proves that he’s a solo artist to watch.