Gang Gang Dance
Release Date: May 10, 11
The biblical book of Matthew tells us that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. So it is with Gang Gang Dance‘s Eye Contact, at least as it relates to album-opening track “Glass Jar.” The 11+ minute song plays like an improvisational jam for six whole minutes before its brightly-shining synthesizers usher in what we might otherwise think of as the actual song. On virtually any other album, lengthy instrumentals like this one would almost certainly be the last song. Instead, it opens up Eye Contact, and the band released it as a free download back in March, making it the first thing we heard from an incredibly anticipated album. Where other artists and bands offer up their most concise, polished track as hype fodder, Gang Gang Dance gave us something free-flowing and roomier, at once challenging our notion of what constitutes a “single” and demanding our patience in listening. In a sense, it was a risky move, and the lengthy intro to “Glass Jar” still surprises me even after repeated listens. And yet, even as it piques my curiosity, it also heralds the arrival of an amazing album.
Eye Contact is the band’s fifth studio album and their first for 4AD, the venerable British indie label that very much appears to be diversifying and modernizing its roster, first with Gang Gang Dance and more recently with forward-thinking electronic artists Zomby and Joker. Eye Contact does a very good job at tolling the bell of a new era at 4AD. Like 2008’s Saint Dymphna and Gang Gang Dance’s other studio albums, Eye Contact is a smorgasbord of musical styles and runs the gamut of worldly genres. Over the course of the album, the band riffs on some rather huge melodies, most of them indebted to the geographic East. Singer Lizzi Bougatsos sounds typically Asian and pre-pubescent, and her vocals are almost always obscured by various filters and processors.
“MindKilla” beats us over the head with a calypso beat even as it scares us with coked-out, screwed-up vocals. “Chinese High” unravels pretty much as its title suggests, with a smoky-smooth bass line and easygoing tubular bells. Three interludes seamlessly blend into the seven lengthier songs that surround them. Interlude “∞ ∞” and follow-up “Romance Layers” are nothing short of chillwave, with squelching synthesizers and a funky groove that guest vocalist Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip exploits to maximum effect. Other than the lengthy build-up on “Glass Jar,” “Adult Goth” and “Thru and Thru” provide the most socially intense moments on the album, the former with its soaring saxophone and the latter with its wavering, distorted guitars.
The result is an album that retains the band’s incredibly creative, diverse sound but one that feels infinitely more cohesive and focused. On a scale of greatness, and in terms of sound comparisons, Eye Contact deserves a rightful place next to Crystal Castles I or II, M.I.A.’s Kala or Yeasayer’s All Hour Cymbals.