Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dancing on the cosmic stage with Gang Gang Dance

When Lucas told me that he thought Gang Gang Dance’s most recent album, Saint Dymphna, was his album of the decade, there was little question that I would have to get it. It belongs to that genre of music that seems to be slowly re-emerging after a couple of decades in the shadows – experimental electronica. But if Saint Dymphna is anything to go by, it’s clearly music that has emerged from those shadows very much refreshed and reinvigorated, and ready for a long stretch in the sun.

Things start a bit like an electronic helicopter firing up its engines; there are some flourishes on the electric keyboards and we are catapulted into this album’s unique sound-world. It’s very much a 21st century world, but one in which the voices of a whole cosmos of other times and places can still be heard echoing – tribal beats, 60s psychedelia, 70s experimentation, and sounds that may well have been created on the other side of the universe. This is music for the world’s dance floor.

I love the way we are swept up in a smorgasbord of sounds in “First Communion”, sampling everything together, leaving our taste buds confused but crazy with glee; or the way tones and colours blend into each other in “Blue Nile”, like swirling water, with a hint of Africa in its jangling beats that eventually give way to the cataclysmic pounding that kicks off “Vacuum” and yet which still keeps the river flowing above, now big and majestic.

Sound is always used with amazing creativity and originality on this album, like the way tiny keyboard phrases repeat at lightning speed at the beginning of “Princes”, setting a beat that is taken up by electric drums and ultimately grows into a sort of multi-coloured hip hop. It's just another example of how cleverly and thoroughly everything is thought out here - Saint Dymphna is not an album that just speaks in words and sentences, but in paragraphs and pages, too.

Electronic music can sometimes be pretty confronting, the more experimental it gets, but here even the most bizarre sounds are executed with such musicianship that you begin to realise that there is nothing that can’t be turned into music in the right hands. Listen to the way “Inner Pace” moves from weird waves of noise into a symphony of electronic brilliance, or to the metallic percussion sounds in “Afoot”, bursting with energy and drive, to see just how cleverly this band does its job.

“Desert Storm” is literally ablaze with sound – squealing vocals, some wonderful sliding sounds in the bass-line, chugging electronic chords, melodies worthy of the richest romanticism, all mixing and blending into a massive explosion of music before making way for the dreamier closing track, “Dust”. Here the layers of sound all seem to slowly and happily take their rest, like the whole world bedding down for the night under a sky of a million stars, after the best day of its life.

Saint Dymphna is a bit like being on a very, very fast ride – it gets you pumping with adrenalin, and sends your body’s speedometer well and truly off the dial sometimes – not so much because of the fast pace of the music, but more because of the speed at which its ideas come hurling at you.

If electronic music can stay in the hands of bands as creative and as musical as Gang Gang Dance, then it has a sensational future. Thanks once again Lucas!

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