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Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna

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Artist: Gang Gang Dance

Album: Saint Dymphna

Label: The Social Registry

Review date: Oct. 17, 2008

Following up 2005’s God’s Money was bound to be a tricky thing for Gang Gang Dance. Bands that receive such critical acclaim early in their careers uniquely feel the blessing and burden of luck. The positives are obvious enough, but the pressure that accompanies such praise can effectively cancel them out. Attempting to meet expectations can lead to creative deadlock, and even if that is surmounted, backlash is waiting. Even though the band started in 2002, their fame accelerated with the release of God’s Money – the album accumulated a wide collection of press, often full of nouns and adjectives like “chaos,” “alchemy,” “decay,” “improvisation,” “avant” and “abstract,” and references to everything from Delta blues to Kurt Schwitters and Frank Gehry. Continuing down that path would require both serious chops and dedication, while risking residence in the new music ghetto.

So, it makes sense that Gang Gang Dance went the other way on Saint Dymphna. It maintains some of the group’s ritualistic mysticism, but the crux of the album is the drift toward pop. Lizzie Bougatsos’ vocals are more often front and center, and her incantatory voice brings to mind British punk icon Toyah Willcox and even sometimes, as on the single "House Jam," early Madonna.

The 11 songs on Saint Dymphna range from groove-laden to breezy ambience, all adorned with a fair share of synthesizer worship and eclectic instrumentation. The clattering drums of "Bebey" come across like a calm Crash Worship track with a slight middle-eastern flavor, while several songs are reminiscent of ’80s UK acts like Hula and In the Nursery. “Desert Storm,” with its yelping vocals and vaguely dubby guitar, is one of the album’s most memorable cuts.

Unfortunately, the two songs informed most by contemporary culture fail miserably. "House Jam" is a New Waveish nightmare of bland pop and predictable synth washes, and "Princes" brings in UK grime MC Tinchy Stryder for a sloppy attempt at cross-genre hybridization that comes off like a late-night Garageband session. It’s a collaboration that benefits neither party.

Despite the less-successful entries, Saint Dymphna is commendable. There’s substantially less chaos and abstractness and more pop quantization, but Gang Gang Dance are still overflowing with ideas. Moments of rhythmic unity may march in lockstep, but it’s never too long before one lightbulb burns out and another takes its place.

By Mason Jones

Other Reviews of Gang Gang Dance

Revival of the Shittest

Gang Gang Dance

God's Money

Retina Riddim


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