Gang Gang Dance

Eye Contact

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Anyone who's spent any time with Gang Gang Dance's catalog understands that they never stand still as an entity, evolving in sound and personnel. No two records from their shelf sound alike, though the progression of incorporating music and grooves from other cultures has been steady, if often chaotic, amid the squelch and squeal of their sound collages (through 2005's God's Money, anyway). With 2008's Saint Dymphna, GGD embraced grime and dubstep in a weave of careening, skittering synths and beats that were almost songlike. All of that said, Eye Contact, GGD's debut offering for 4AD, is startling. Gone are the murky layers of production, angular, abstract dark corners, and black holes of space and rawness. Eye Contact is GGD's first true "pop" record. Liz Bougatsos' voice rises to the top of every song here, and these are very formal, if complex songs. This is best evidenced by opener "Glass Jar," which commences with five minutes of blissed-out synth washes, whispering cymbals (courtesy of new drummer Jesse Lee, whose innovative rhythm magic raises the bar). Its bluster enters gradually, winding in from the margins amid the woozy, intoxicating mix, touches of Latin and Caribbean rhythm (via synth) enter briefly before disappearing again, as melody returns before the whole things whispers to a close. It's the finest -- and longest -- track here. "Chinese High" uses Middle Eastern modes and melodies amid criss-crossing bass and drum lines and frequent instrumental interludes where synths zig-zag cross-continental borders from Europe to Asia and beyond. Bougatsos' singing invokes both the late Ofra Haza and Noa while sounding like no one but herself. "Mindkilla" is the closest link to Saint Dymphna. It's driven by hard electro-funk, and Bougatsos' voice and synths are almost painfully sharp, while remaining irresistibly accessible. "Romance Layers" is gorgeously dubby modern electronic soul with mellifluous bass and guitar carrying up Bougatsos --in her lowest register -- into the erotic depths. It's followed by the glistening, limpid, "Sacer," that's drenched in Eastern pop, and Joe Zawinul-esque synth (à la mid-to late-period Weather Report), an elegantly elastic bassline, and lilting, layered harmonies by Bougatsos that suggest the Cocteau Twins of Heaven or Las Vegas. As full of other sounds, textures, and harmonics as Eye Contact is, GGD are their own animal, and a chameleon-like one at that. Don't expect them to stay here for long. This album is indeed a key turning point for the unit, and easily the most fully realized project in their catalog.

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