It was a strange move on the part of tribal Manhattan art-rockers Gang Gang Dance to release “Glass Jar” as their launch single for Eye Contact the group’s fifth record. Hovering slightly below eleven and a half minutes long the song is a brooding monster of grimy beats, post-punk vigor, psy-trance effervescence all being held together superbly by an excellent set of synth lines and the untamable Lizzi Bougatsos. Slightly less hectic and easier to swallow than nearly anything off their previous landmark record Saint Dymphna (2008) “Glass Jar” is really not all that surprising of a song for Gang Gang. Abnormal considering how well this band traverse the outskirts of pop-music seemingly soaking up Malian pop, Romani music and East London Grime as easily as NYC Punk. It was almost as if they were granting an admission of guilt to their fans: “We have already reached our precipice; now let us feel things out for a while.” A vast over assumption, sure. Even a bit defeatist if you ask me. But for the longest time it was hard to shake the lingering projection that their incredible streak of quality—or more importantly unrelenting growth and artistry—could soon begin to stagnate. Oh how wonderful it is to be wrong.
Rather than “Glass House” being some epic album finisher or mid-section crux Gang Gang chose to begin Eye Contact with the slow-burning banger; fitting as it is the closest sonically to what they had evolved into previously with Saint Dymphna’s worldly eccentricity. The track becomes a transition point; an eleven minute jaunt in which Gang Gang initially offer a hand for you to grasp and follow. But about six minutes in, the ground begins to rumble, your palms sweat and your grip falters; eventually Bougatsos is unleashed and you’re effectively thrown to the wolves. The echoing bombast of 90’s Chicago House music hurdles you in-between Boards of Canada inspired synth lines and Byrne-esque guitar noodling. Yet Lizzi is there to catch you. Hell, she is there to guide you through the maelstrom. Bourgatsos croons: “I care for you/I care for you like a mother” in a chirpy voice most closely resembling an erratic Elizabeth Fraser meets Kazu Makino -- and all the gargantuan beats, bass lines and woozy keys fall into place. “Glass Jar” takes off and more importantly Eye Contact hits a stride that is uninterrupted until all forty-eight minutes have ticked past.
While “Glass Jar” very well may be the best song on an album teeming with irreplaceable tracks it is surprising how varied Eye Contact is. Save three interludes, the first “∞” and last “∞ ∞ ∞” (guess the second) that work more so as song-to-song transitions the record contains only seven fully-fleshed tunes. Though with most (exception: the excellent “Romance Layers”) hitting well past the five-minute-mark Eye Contact is a deceptively complete and fully-realized record from a band who seem to produce nothing but. Remarkably though they have never sounded this resoundingly appealing before. Whereas in past Gang Gang would have hidden their anthemic hooks under layers of distortion, dubby beats, quirky progressions and ballistic percussion Eye Contact finally showcases their pop-savvy en masse. Granted these moments were hinted at with their last two records--aforementioned Saint Dymphna and the equally as superb God’s Money (2005)—yet three years ago I’d wager one would be hard pressed to find any familiar with the band willing to predict that the abrasively appealing Gang Gang Dance would ever sound this lush and digestible. Yet they sacrifice none of their mystique and vigor instead opting for growth and a change of focus instead of becoming benign.
What makes Eye Contact work so well, beyond the mouth-watering beats, trance-inducing synths and Lizzi’s gargantuan personality is how refreshing it comes off as. Sure “Adult Goth” is the best Delerium track they never made and “Romance Layers” is the chillwave song to end all chillwave songs. Even “Mindkilla” is a bit reminiscent of Crystal Castles and “Sacer” the Cocteau Twins. But that is if you are attempting to grasp at straws; denotation for denotation’s sake, a basis for judgment of something otherwise solely independent. Well, save maybe some comparison to Gang Gang’s other individualistic endeavors. Eye Contact sees their focus shift from globe-spanning pop and UK Grime instead illuminating their underlying appreciation of psychedelic trance and house music and Romani-inspired punk. Gang Gang dance were once of the front-runners from New York's viral Dance-Punk scene of the early 00’s—while it is still safe to consider them of the movement’s shining lights—they have almost entirely left behind their initial trappings in favor or a more electronic backbone. And it was unquestionably for the better as this perpetually jovial band sounds down right ecstatic on record. This allows Eye Contact’s inherent joy to spill over to the listener with ease.
Gang Gang Dance have never been the type to be morose but it would not be too farfetched to describe them as inescapably taxing. This aspect generally was worn as a badge of pride by the group, unafraid to venture out into the deepest, darkest crevasses of “acceptable” pop music; even if their records were accompanied by a slight learning curve the payoffs made the ventures absurdly worthwhile. Eye Contact is not so much Gang Gang finally giving in to “safer” electronic tropes and attempting to ride the House-wave overtaking popular and independent music: the record is Gang Gang pissing into the wind, smile beaming as they remain dry. They crash barriers of House and bum rush the dance floor with sitars, harps, slick guitar riffs, demonic bass, transcendental synths and an otherworldly vocalist. Eye Contact is not Gang Gang Dance making an electronic record—it is electronic music finally attaching itself to Gang Gang. They take hold of the aesthetic and adopt it effectively doing what the band seems to do every time they attempt an artistic evolution: take a desire ethos and own it, fully and completely. Eye Contact is no different and in fact is probably the strongest document yet this band has offered up for the desirability of expansive electro-punk. It also happens to be a superb record. So, that does not hurt either.
3. Adult Goth
4. Chinese High
6. ∞ ∞
7. Romance Layers
9. ∞ ∞ ∞
10. Thru and Thru
Gang Gang Dance is a music group based in New York City, signed to the the Social Registry record label. Members were previously seen in Washington DC's The Cranium, NYC's Angel Blood, Actress, and Ssab Songs (with Harmony Korine). The group has become well known within the New York experimental/art scene for its distinctive sound that draws equally from African rhythms, Middle eastern dance music, industrial, noise, grime and other genres.... read more