Is GGD’s music that uniquely hard to talk about, simultaneously colonial and post-colonial, World and Other-World? Most reviews I read avoid having a musical discussion in favor of taking the Orient Express to Brooklyn to the tune of “There’s a Place in France Where the Naked Ladies Dance,” celebrating in a cartoon Egypt where opacity and repetition are sufficient conditions of “shamanism.” This is the fairytale from which, apparently, you must begin in order to appreciate GGD. You can trace the quick development of this narrative from press-release origins where we are told they mix “elements of Asian, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, hip-hop, rock, experimental & electronic music” (isn’t most contemporary rock music at least that mongrel?); Other Music tells us we will find “Ethiopian-inspired guitar and piano interplay,” “snaky rhythms”; The Village Voice expounds, telling us (with a straight face) that GGD assemble “scraps of Cambodian dub, Ethiopian no-wave, and Tibetan techno,” and that this gallery-rock group “conjure[s] the disembodied voice” of their departed bandmate (Nathan Maddox). Dusted Magazine took the “Ethiopian no-wave” one step further, describing “Ethiopiques-esque bass lines” (Cf. the excellent 18 Volume Buda Music series showcasing the staggering diversity of Ethiopian music and the absurdity of casually reductive “World Music” generalizations); Pitchfork spots Gamelan (somewhere).
This kind of ‘criticism’ mystifies and romanticizes the group, sidestepping all conversations about the sounds and performances themselves. What “Asian” usually means when casually applied to western pop has next-to-nothing to do with ethnic practice, which is belittled in service of the soundbite; Somebody’s spiced up a Dorian scale with unorthodox augmented seconds (about as ethnically specific as that “we are Siamese if you please” song from Lady and the Tramp) and…Shazam!, our anti-heroes conjure the magical, alien Orient. Is the music/culture-promotion machine that generally ill-equipped to construct and apply a standard of quality to music that only superficially appears to resist quality (so that what should have been a liberating rejection of reified academic standards for quality has resulted in an attempt at a new kind of self-important musical paradigm: all the snoot, half the rigor)? Why does it seem that art-music reviews tend either to repeat and overstate press releases and culture credentials, or dismiss a perceived “emperor’s new clothes” (when they happen to not believe in the emperor’s fashion sense)?