Gang Gang Dance’s ‘Eye Contact’: Fulfilling cosmic musical ambition

Gang Gang Dance is the band that science fiction promised us. Omnivorous ears that seek out the group’s fearless new album “Eye Contact” will swear that it came from the future. Or prehistory. Or some great, galactic beyond.

Or New York. That’s where the band formed in the early aughties, rubbing elbows with kindred avant-rock troupes Animal Collective and TV on the Radio. But as those bands pole-vaulted out of indieland and into a splintering mainstream, Gang Gang Dance’s brainy swirl of dub, Bollywood and reggaeton remained largely subterranean.

That probably won’t change with “Eye Contact.” Easily the band’s most accessible album, it’s still a demanding listen that pushes toward some uncharted tropical space age.

Only, pushing makes it sound like work. And these seven songs — plus three interludes of ambient connective tissue — have a notable ease to them, a sure-footed confidence that you don’t often hear from artists sweating hard to shake things up.

You can sense the band’s mettle immediately with “Glass Jar,” an album-opening track that sounds as natural and mystifying as birth. Drummer Jesse Lee settles into a free-jazz simmer while keyboardist Brian DeGraw, once of Washington no-wave quartet the Crainium, lets his synthesizers gleam and sparkle. After six minutes of anticipation, the beat spills over into a blissed-out, aural avalanche. Singer Lizzi Bougatsos dives in: “I surrender!”


Gang Gang Dance's album "Eye Contact" (Courtesy of 4ad Records)

At least that’s what it sounds like she’s saying. Her Kate Bush-inspired mewl has morphed into new timbres over the years, but her lyrics remain tough to make out. But they come into startling focus during the dystopian dancehall bounce of “MindKilla.” As her bandmates recycle noises from all over the planet, Bougatsos makes a plea for silence, cribbing the lyrics to the traditional lullaby “Hush, Little Baby.”

Of all the post-millennial, pan-cultural, polyglot pop music floating around out there, barely any of it feels this assured. More than M.I.A.’s sample-happy pastiche and Vampire Weekend’s Afro-pop appropriations, Gang Gang Dance seems deeply fluent in its influences.

So here’s the big mystery: Why, in 2011, aren’t there scores of bands like this? Where’s the cosmic ambition? The insatiable global appetites? We have to wait for flying cars and we only get one Gang Gang Dance in the meantime?

The future is cruel.

Recommended tracks:

“Glass Jar,” “MindKilla”

Chris Richards became the Post's pop music critic in 2009. He has covered D.I.Y. house shows, White House concerts, go-go and Gaga.
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