Of course, if you checked out their last album, 2008’s Saint Dymphna, then you already know what a hallucinogenic stew this group is capable of cooking up. The differences between their last album and Eye Contact seem to exist mostly in the perspectives of the artists. Multi-instrumentalist Brian Degraw has described their previous efforts as being somewhat escapist — weird, flashy worlds unto themselves into which the listener is allowed only a temporary visit. Somehow, Degraw imagines Eye Contact as the one where Gang Gang Dance is actually communicating with you.
I don’t know how much I buy that. Eye Contact still feels like a wild universe way outside of my own, but I love it all the same. Like Saint Dymphna, this record plays like a full-length club mix, and despite hewing to a format that’s proven fruitful for them, it’s every bit as bold as their previous works. After the aforementioned introductory announcement, Gang Gang Dance blows their sound wide open with “Glass Jar.” Bravely, the band practically hinges the entire success of this album on the eleven-minute opener. Then, instead of giving up the goods right away, “Glass Jar” blearily finds its footing, exploring the contours of its gauzy, majestic surroundings, and waiting a full six minutes before finally introducing the song’s infectious groove. It’s a stunning introduction to a stunning album.
From there, Gang Gang Dance charts a similarly adventurous path. “Adult Goth” starts with some suspense-movie synth stabs before segueing into a sinister, dub-tinged, Eastern bounce. “Romance Layers” is sultry soul run through crisp drums, hazy pad washes, and punctuated with sharp lead keys. Album closer “Thru and Thru” begins with a Middle Eastern melody snaking through some pounding percussion which, of course, soon balloons into a stratospheric rave that seems to whip through every musical style known to man by virtue of its cyclonic nature.
This is not an easy record to pin down or appreciate instantly, but its dizzying globetrotting and beatific nature should surely tell most listeners that there is something to come back to. Many musicians have tried to demonstrate their multicultural credentials by tossing in stray Arabic chants or African polyrhythms, some with more success (DJ/rupture, early M.I.A.) than others (M.I.A. lately). Gang Gang Dance may be the first to incorporate these elements and many others so seamlessly without losing sight of the distinctions that kept them separate for so long. Eye Contact works, and it’s amazing that it does.