It might be comforting, or maybe disquieting, to learn that Saint Dymphna is the patron saint of mental illness.
On 7/7/07 The Boredoms set up 77 Boadrum, a massive drum circle in a tiny park just below the Brooklyn Bridge. When New York State troopers capped the crowd at 3,000, fans spilled onto the streets of DUMBO and even up the bridge itself to enjoy the spectacle from way above the East River. The plan was make this spectacle a bi-coastal effort on 8/8/08, with the Japanese avant-punks leading 88 drummers into a perpetual drum circle in the La Brea Tar Pits of Los Angeles. This left the East Coast to wonder what New York band could lead 88 drummers on our shores and represent the tribal rhythms and avant-noise spirit of the Boredoms at the same time. Here’s where Gang Gang Dance comes in.
Perhaps unpredictably, Gang Gang Dance became the perfect choice to lead New York’s freaked-out drum-jam experiment. They’ve got all the elements ripe for obvious name-dropping references: eclectic neo-tribalism of Animal Collective, danceable funk of !!!, sonic exploration of Boredoms, Boards of Canada-style interludes, and Portishead-like trip-hop. And the band has proved that they can deliver on a New Yorker-approved arts level, as evidenced by their performance at Whitney Biennial 2008.
Saint Dymphna is not a scattered effort, though. Gang Gang Dance packages all the previously mentioned genres into a nice little, seamless package. In fact, nearly every track melds into one another as the band transitions from one genre to the next. Saint Dymphna has Gang Gang Dance stalking into the wilderness dragging their drums and organs along, making occasional pit stops in deep funk, dancehall, reggaeton, and London grime.
The most obvious stand-outs here are the danceable club anthems. “Holy Communion” commences with a steady build, easing into Liz Bougatsos’ sensuous howls; and then, about 50 seconds in, a distinctive funk riff blows the lid off the fucker. The result is a rapid-fire, bass-heavy, MIA-worthy freak out. “Princes” traverses a similar vein, this time buoyed by the fast-paced syncopated verse of London emcee Tinchy Stryder. Stryder’s particularly explosive first verse is introduced after a stunted piano riff over which Tinchy shouts “Oh Shit, Gang Gang” -- the beat drops and the grime-induced mayhem begins. The result is a peak to what is a impressively comprehensive effort from the Gang Gang crew.
At the bottom of the record is the drum-heavy ballad “Desert Storm” and melodic “House Jam”. The former is filled with tom-tom fills and has organs, cymbals, and synths being thrown in at all directions as Bougatsos works her way through the dissonance with her staccato lyrics. “House Jam” has a soothing manipulated vocal track which sways back-and-forth as Bougatsos does a Björk job on the leads; bleeps and such wander in the background of this tranquil number.
And if I could be forgiven for dancing about architecture a bit longer, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the eclectic, instrumental tracks on Saint Dymphna. “Bebey“ starts the album off with a gentle “whooping” which ascends into persistent “whipping”. A smattering of drum-rolls and manipulated organs propel the album into its incipient track, “Holy Communion”. “Vacuum” features those Boredoms Super Ae-style riffs which are part drone part rabbit-hole-inducer. “Dust” revolves around a simple riff with the kitchen sink in thrown in at separate intervals. Flutes, horns, bongos, plinking pianos, found and spaceship sounds all make a fitting conclusion to this wildly diverse record.
It seems a brave task to cherry-pick all these eclectic styles and produce a worthy amalgam. But Gang Gang Dance has irretrievably began what may be our generation’s perpetual drum circle. As we begin to sink into their incessant groove it might be comforting, or maybe disquieting, to learn to Saint Dymphna is the patron saint of mental illness. And seeking solace in these troubling times one might ask if this album, like the saint from which it is named, might bring us salvation or simply drive us off the deep end.