Critical Voices: Gang Gang Dance, “Saint Dymphna”

October 16, 2008

Hundreds of avant-noise bands start their careers banging out a mind-numbing racket in their basements. But only a small handful emerge from that dank womb (still dripping with primordial ooze) to produce something as staggeringly beautiful and conceptually challenging as Gang Gang Dance’s Saint Dymphna.

While the group’s 2004 debut indulged the fractured abstractions typical of the Brooklyn noise scene at the time, by 2005’s God’s Money they were a whole other animal, centering their godless paeans in tribal, Middle Eastern percussion, frayed electronics, and vocalist Lizzi Bougatsos’s spiraling howls.

The band’s blood has always run blue with the Dadaist sensibility implied by the “Gang Gang” in their name, but Saint Dymphna is the first album to consciously address the “Dance” element. The opening bars of “First Communion” levitate—or simulate the adrenaline rush which might accompany levitation—before unleashing a guitar groove thick enough to bust your inseam and alien enough to serve as the soundtrack to Jabba’s rave in Return of the Jedi.

Similarly, “Princes” opens with a batch of twittering, Third Encounters-esque flutes but then hits a startling left turn when GGD drop this year’s sickest grime beat, which British MC Tinchy Stryder tears into.

And there’s so much more: prog, house, electro-pop, shoegaze, and favela funk all share floor time, making Saint Dymphna hands down GGD’s most omnivorous venture. Surprisingly, though, it’s also their most manicured and considered—a testament to the band’s increased maturity and virtuosity. Indeed, Saint Dymphna mostly does away with the band’s noise pedigree, though they haven’t lost their taste for the anarchic: “Desert Storm” unfurls as the album’s raging exclamation point.

Saint Dymphna is named after the patron saint of outsiders, but Gang Gang Dance’s sound—both in its mishmash of genres and broadened appeal—has never been more inclusive.

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