Gang Gang Dance producer, Brian DeGraw goes solo, with mixed results
If you wanted to pinpoint one of the more fundamental revolutions in popular music over the last decade or so, it would be a sort of collapsing of borders. From Timbaland’s Arabic-tinged hip-hop productions to Vampire Weekend’s collegiate reworkings of highlife, musicians have leapt on ethnic and exotic sounds with an enthusiasm that’s sometimes resembled plunder.
Gang Gang Dance were always one of the more intriguing exponents of this phenomenon. A New York group mixing cutting-edge electronic experimentation with a hippyish, earth mother vibe, their bewitching pop dove into a melting pot of African pop, grime, Bollywood scores and gypsy folk music. Crucially, though, it never felt like appropriation or gentrification, such was its impulsiveness and its capacity to amaze and confuse in equal measure.
Gang Gang Dance have been quiet since 2011’s ‘Eye Contact’, but ‘Sum/One’ finds the group’s keyboardist and production maestro, Brian DeGraw, striking out solo. Recorded far from the hustle and bustle of New York in the W0RMB1N, a home studio built in the wilds of upstate Woodstock, it comes on like a sort of digitally sharpened take on late-period Gang Gang Dance: fluid, worldy electronic music that drizzles raincloud synths and diaphanous vocals over beats that womp like bro-friendly EDM or snap and growl like early grime. If you’re looking for antecedents, the blip’n’bass movements of ‘Helium Anchor’ or ‘Bricks’ – an orchestral sex jam periodically swarmed by a cloud of angry cyborg cicadas – loosely resemble the unorthodox bass jams of Rustie, Hudson Mohawke, et al. But there’s also a glossy, ghostly spaciness to the textures and melodies that places ‘Sum/One’ vaguely in a 4AD lineage; not too far, when you think about it, from you ethereal ‘80s sorts, AR Kane or Cocteau Twins.
When it works, it’s great. The best moments here – ‘Overlook’ and ‘Quantum Poet Riddim – draw their power from the slippery rhythmic constructions of grime and bashment, although DeGraw doesn’t serve these up raw: by the time he’s finished with them, they’re dotted with microscopic tics and shivers, glowing with lustrous melodies or laced with the robotic repetitions of a sampled diva. When he invites in actual guest stars, though, the results feel a bit flat. Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor is dropped into the seven-minute ‘(FUTD) Time Of Waste’, which opts to dumbly reinvent Hot Chip with added bells and whistles rather than do its own thing. Lovefoxxx of CSS, meanwhile, pops up on ‘Flowers’, but there’s no sass here, just something lightweight and moody that resembles a Chromatics B-side. Ultimately, perhaps that hints at why ‘Sum/One’ doesn’t totally convince. It’s smartly done but strangely rootless, roaming far and wide but without a place to call home.