Music

Gang Gang Dance: Eye Contact

Gang Gang Dance injects pop music with new life, leading the quest for newer sounds from ageless sources. Eye Contact is here to solidify the group’s heavyweight majesty.


Gang Gang Dance

Eye Contact

Label: 4AD
US Release date: 2011-05-10
UK Release date: 2011-05-09
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Three years after the magnetic St. Dymphna, Gang Gang Dance has produced another manic and joyful album of worldbeat noises. Eye Contact plays like a dramatic cycle from morning to night: the feel of the album peaks and dips in energy in a perfect sequence to sustain energy and attention. Though it pushes more towards traditional song structure than Gang Gang has done in the past, the group does not give up its expert taste for noise, squeaks, pops, and maxed out bass. Overall, the new album is a thick slab of synth-ridden melody that may be poppier but no less inspiring.

This is Gang Gang’s first album for 4AD, which has recently ushered other bands, like Ariel Pink, Iron & Wine, and tUnE-yArDs, into bigger more fully formed sounds. The common trajectory from lo to hi-fi sometimes loses fans who call themselves purists. No matter what, to put Eye Contact in a similar trajectory of Gang Gang Dance’s waltz into maturity sells it short with a worn narrative. The three albums, starting with God’s Money and ending with Eye Contact are a solid trilogy that are really of a piece. If anything, Eye Contact is the crowning achievement in its consistency and unrelenting thickness. Thick is really the most apt word to describe the sound on this album. Gang Gang Dance has always been a group of eclectic and sophisticated sound connoisseurs, a record collector’s band whose jubilance can appeal likewise to the novice. Here they weave together sounds into a seamless patchwork, rich in layers and excitement.

As the members’ hosting of the 88 Boadrum concert in Brooklyn around the time of the last album attests, Gang Gang Dance is a band that celebrates rhythm. Eye Contact finds the band breaking in a new drummer for the recording, Jesse Lee, after Tim DeWitt left the band. Since the new album is more song-oriented, we also see vocalist Lizzi Bougatsos take a more central role. Her vocal parts come closer to melodies you can sing along with, front and center in the mix, like on the second single, “MindKilla". But really the band’s strength remains the masterful weaving of the vocal parts into the thickly layered slab of synths, bass, and percussion, so that everything coheres. Instrumentally, the album is synth-heavy; there are less obvious guitar parts than on St. Dymphna, which had nice reggae influenced guitar interludes. Here the guitar is more heavily processed. Where the last album saw Gang Gang playing more with hip-hop and electronic-influenced styles, now they tilt strongly towards world music for inspiration.

The sequencing of the album is seamless, a major strength of the group on St. Dymphna as well. Three transitional tracks, marked with infinity signs, suture the four major phases of the album: the album warms up slowly on the 11-minute opener and epic first single, “Glass Jar", but quickly unleashes a frantic onslaught for a straight four songs of Eastern/Caribbean inflected rhythms before bringing it down with some reflective R&B and dreamy pop and finally closing out with a stomping percussive track.

“Glass Jar” perfectly stokes anticipation with swirling synths and rippling cymbals so that when the rhythm comes in and Bougatsos starts singing, despite the steadiness, it is incredibly climactic. The long build and soaring culmination produce a light-headedness that is the welcome dominant feeling of the rest of the album. An interlude of yoga chanting leads us into “Adult Goth", which has a staccato guitar riff and Bollywood percussion. Bougatsos’s voice is in the upper register, almost nasal, and climbs into the forefront of the track -- she even toasts over the bridge. There is more room between the high and low end, so that the drums and bass reverberate out in rings under the melodies. Next, “Chinese High” picks up on the island feel, with a steel drum driven melody. The highlight of this track is the low and dirty bass drum that pulses throughout the song to give it a grinding feel.

The second single, the Dune referencing “MindKilla” combines jagged synths coming in at all ends with droning bass and a reggaeton beat for a dark feel. Still, “MindKilla” is as catchy as Gang Gang Dance gets and seems the obvious single for the album. Though it sticks out melodically, it is not the album’s highlight. Placed in the middle of the album, “MindKilla” actually brings down the hectic rush of songs into the more chilled out middle swath of songs. “Romance Layers", a duet with Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip, is the dark horse of the album. It’s an almost note perfect sendup of ‘80s synth slow jams, but without a central vocal part. Think Prince but not nearly as monumental. What could be a dated sound in the synths is actually reinvigorated. The track works so well because it provides needed respite after the crazy rush of sensory overload.

The weakest song on the album is “Sacer". Though Bougatsos has taken on a seemingly more concentrated role throughout the album, this song could be seen as a showcase of her vocals. But this is where I find her style going too far into the childlike squeaks of Björk-land. Luckily, however, “Thru and Thru” returns the album to its brilliance with a stomping track of Bollywood style percussion. This is the late night song that rises and falls like a second wind. It’s epically dramatic and complex, a fine way to close out.

Eye Contact is obviously a risky strategy in its attempt to encompass everything. The album opens with the words, “I can hear everything. It’s everything time” and goes out with a strange, warped injunction, “Live forever.” But Gang Gang Dance pulls off the gamble with a huge payoff. The group is a long-awaited fulfillment of the promise of early postpunk worldbeat like the Slits (in fact Bougatsos could be heir to Ari Up). Gang Gang updates and rounds out this sound to make it eminently pertinent and exciting. Eye Contact solidifies the group’s heavyweight majesty. Gang Gang Dance injects pop music with new life, leading the quest for newer sounds from ageless sources and mixing it all together in a critically irresistible way.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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