Gang Gang Dance
Gang Gang Dance
hey are hip, sexy, and studiedly strange—amply pedigreed—compelling as the fashion-ARTifacts they have become. Since the CD-R vanity pressing of their first collected recordings (Revival of the Shittest) they’ve become the sort of band you earn merits for knowing about and digging. And while it sounds unintuitive to say a record composed of two long tracks of low-fi, quasi-improvisational experimentation takes no chance, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to. Music that cannot be casually appreciated should perhaps not sound as if it were casually made. GGD sounds like a group more concerned with striking a sonic pose then having anything of much substance to offer (aurally, conceptually, or otherwise). GGD is a monologue riddled with italics and winks referencing only other winks (which might otherwise be interesting but here comes off as an intransitive sort of irony). It possesses none of the riveting discomfort of the new Sightings record, all of the slightly aimless boredom of the last Liars record, none of the humorous buoyancy of the Boredoms.
GGD intentionally create a vaguely Eastern sounding dance-prov-noise music read through the lens of Williamsburg’s take on 80’s New York No-Wave. The naïve Orientalism (1) (which may well be part of the point, intentional…it’s hard to tell) lends a pleasing cultural confusion at best (being merely schticky, at worst) but ultimately the musical references to the ‘Exotic’ come off as manipulative and insincere (rather than demonstrating any sort of honest exploration of its professed influences) and can’t carry the weight of its conceit far enough. If you are more than an occasional traveler in the various X-waves of avant-rock, familiar with some of art-noise’s basic postures, you see where the record is going in the first few minutes and are left with little else thereafter.
Singer Lizzi Bougatsos (of ritualistic Metal-meets-Nitsch performance art group, Angelblood) is Kate Bush covering Diamanda Galas (less range and pathos), with hints of Eastern European art-diva Milica Paranosic (whose extended technique would be at home in Labyrinth’s goblin choir) and the defunct Chicago 90’s ‘now-wave’ group, MATH. All of the other musicians involved were affiliated with DeGraw’s and filmmaker Harmony Korrine’s frustrating-but-interesting “SSAB Songs”, with Tim DeWit’s musicianship having also graced the excellent work of both Neil Michael Hagerty and White Magic.
GGD’s strengths seem better suited to live performance where a theatrical and more danceable Occidental-DaDa-cruise-ship-cantina-band approach has been well-received. Musically, GGD sits at the intersection of Get Hustle/Bride of No No, DNA, NNCK, and Need New Body, neighboring Excepter, Prick Decay, and Black Dice. But the sounds lack development, muscle, dynamics. The instrumental and vocal processing is discursive, chatty, and rarely applied to any truly engaging effect. The sample-delay theatrics are tedious and predictable. At their most churning and visceral Brian DeGraw’s rhythms recalls Chicago percussionist Michael Zerang, but the grooves never really arrive anywhere. There are moments of sudden fragility and even beauty, but they are too self-conscious and scattered to be effective or even to validate the rest of this disc. When, about 17 minutes into the second track, Maddox’s dirty, percussive vocalizations spar with Bougatsos’ Azita-isms, it’s close to thrilling—the final five minutes are its finest. But by the time my ears perk up the record ends. The record’s musical arc is too self-possessed and concentrated to work in the way that Animal Collective or even SSAB Songs do (drawing on punk urgency and articulating it through a ‘childish limitations’/’outsider art’ sort of approach)—but then there’s also too little patience or dialogue in evidence to make any of it work very well as ‘listening music’: the improvisations are simply not very good. It retains the ‘peaks-and-valleys’ arc of much improvised music suggesting they’re both trying to make an authentically improvised record and succeeding only in attaining its most irritating hallmark.
I doubt GGD really want to be taken “seriously” as improvisers (in the self-important, academic sort of way). But if it’s all ‘fuck art, let’s dance (artistically)’ stuff then their artistic targets remain unclear. What are they laughing at, what are they celebrating, what are they interrogating and where is the line drawn? Most importantly, why is that very ambiguity, my lack of ability to answer that question, so lamentably uninteresting to me when it happens to be the salient feature of some of my favorite bands? GGD’s debut LP is immature and needs either to become more so or to grow up. But if they strike me as an unfocused and overly-stylized undergraduate art project, I’m still happy they’re around. I appreciate that they’re failing with such bravura, that there are excellent labels like Fusetron and Social Registry willing to stand behind it, and that industry people are feeling forced by fear of un-with-it-ness to (ap)praise them. If they continue to gain dernier cri steam they can at least serve as a gateway drug to more substantive musical matter. And if they stick around I think GGD could yet do some remarkable things (ditching the delays, for starters). But if your bag is ethno-punk-plunderphonia you’re better off keeping company with Sun City Girls or Jewelled Antler Collective.
Reviewed by: William S. Fields
Reviewed on: 2005-01-13