Saturday, February 4, 2012

Gang Gang Dance's Sinister "Eye Contact"

After discovering Gang Gang Dance at the top of an interesting year-end list, I suspected that I would have to order Eye Contact online. I was surprised to find it on the shelf at a local record store during a close-out sale. When I plopped the album in the car player for a preview, however, I thought it may have been a dud. The opening track started as a meandering ambient experiment, and ran counter to the online samples that initially piqued my interest. Patience is a virtue, though, and right as I pulled into a parking place I heard the distinctive sound of live drums. I was soon mesmerized, and I listened to Glass Jar in its entirety.

After this initial experience, Eye Contact became a bit of an obsession, and one in which I have not fully recovered. The album is experimental electronica, combining house music motifs, live instruments, and a variety of Eastern timbres into head-bobbing grooves with a vaguely exotic flavor. With as much as it has going on, Eye Contact might easily devolve into clutter, but from a sound engineering standpoint the album is really quite remarkable. It just sounds good. Lead singer Lizzi Bougatsos is an attention-grabbing focal point as well, employing her voice as a flexible sound-producing instrument as if Kate Bush took a turn as a Bollywood star.

Rather than being organized into standard verses and choruses, many tracks from Eye Contact are structurally linear. They start in one place and slowly evolve, which is why my first impression of Glass Jar was misleading. There is a sense of journey in their music, rather like jazz or the output jam bands, that can’t be appreciated from a cursory listen. The compositional structure of the tracks, however, differentiates their organic dance style from purely improvisational styles. They bear the potential for improvisation, but also cohere into songs through unifying themes and timbres.

Although I try to use “official” videos as examples when I can, I sometimes find fan-made videos to be revealing. There is an almost sinister, nocturnal overtone to Gang Gang Dance’s work that vaguely reminds me of Mew. The author of the unofficial Glass Jar video above seems to have picked up on this. As I continued to look for other examples, I found a mashup on Mindkilla with a similar tone. Both of these videos are unofficial, but by appropriating existing animation, they emphasize the nightmarish, hallucinatory overtones in Gang Gang Dance’s music.

I have only represented Eye Contact with two tracks, but the album is consistent, flows well, and coheres into a holistic listening experience.  I highly suggest it.  Furthermore, if the enthusiasm I have for this album remains in the coming months, even at this early date, I can confidently predict that it will make the year-end list.

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