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Gang Gang Dance: Saint Dymphna

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Gang Gang Dance

Saint Dymphna

Rating: 4.0

Label: The Social Registry

Just like experimental rock troupe Animal Collective did on last year’s Strawberry Jam, New York’s Gang Gang Dance has shifted away from their traditional open-ended soundscapes on their latest disc, Saint Dymphna, and embraced more traditional song structures. That’s not to say Saint Dymphna (named for the patron saint of outsiders) contains anything that sounds conventional. Following last year’s masterpiece Untrue by Burial, dubstep is all the rage. Gang Gang Dance use the tribal elements of their older albums, but combine them with that same dreamy, swirling mélange of sounds that made Untrue so stunning. It is ambient music at its best and most challenging. Traces of everything from Eno to Kraftwerk filter throughout the disc. It’s the twinkling Kraut synthesizers combined with dance beats that make this mash-up of styles work.

Fans of Gang Gang Dance’s previous work will notice that the rambling, long tracks of past releases such as God’s Money are replaced by more concise songs here: the album begins with the wistful instrumental “Bebey,” which features a expansive backdrop of sounds before switching to a regimented beat and melody. It isn’t until the second track, “First Communion,” that Liz Bougatso’s vocals arrive, alternating between menacing whisper and Björk-like wail. The tempo increases and though it is not necessarily dance music, I could hear it being played in a echoing club somewhere in an industrial district.

Saint Dymphna is all about beats. It is heavy on production, sleek, but haunting melodies and distant sounds wrap around the beats and distract from just how slick it all is. In fact, when the few tracks that feature vocals do arrive, they almost jar the listener out of the album’s dreamlike world. It is David Lynch through a speaker. But to build this dream world, there has to be layers and Gang Gang Dance pile grime upon Eastern music upon house to achieve the perfect recipe. First single “House Jam,” is a simple, ambient dance number, except there is something about the synths and bright guitar that messes with the formula. You can groove to it, but it’s thinking man’s dance stylings.

If Saint Dymphna seems like a bastardization of many styles, that isn’t meant in a negative manner. The best music borrows and is informed by many sources. Gang Gang Dance is just smart enough to use the best elements to create something uniquely its own. Just like the proverbial melting pot of New York City, Gang Gang Dance is the culmination of so many sounds colliding at the same intersection.

by David Harris

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