Arty New York trio Gang Gang Dance’s music has always been ahead of its time. Today, the back-catalogue of an obscure musician living on the other side of the world is a few clicks away. Scouring a lost, ’80s African jazz bootleg is as easy as picking up an Ed Sheeran LP in Sainsbury’s. But Gang Gang’s previous records acted as crate-diggers before every so-and-so with a Mixcloud account could claim to do the same, handpicking tribal rhythms and sounds from across the globe, without slipping into dreaded “world music” territory. Instead, they channelled the best of their border-hopping pursuits into wild, percussive pop.
A lot’s changed in the seven years between their 4AD debut and 2018 follow-up ‘Kazuashita’. Not within Gang Gang Dance themselves – they remain staunchly left-of-centre and buzzing with new ideas – but in the wider music community. Genreless, hard-to-define alternative acts (Grimes, Arca, Rina Sawayama) are everywhere, as are listicles on ‘Freeform Thai Jazz Records You Need To Know Now’. In that sense, Gang Gang Dance’s new record is very of-the-moment, but suddenly the trio are no longer one step ahead of the rest of the pack.
They combat this twofold: first, by threading together their wild, varied songs into a coherent whole. ‘Kazuashita’ could, in theory, have been released as a single uninterrupted track, one that stands out from 2018’s deluge of Soundcloud mixes.
Secondly, they hone in on a constant strength across their career: namely, their ability to emphasise nature through electronic-led sounds. Standout ‘J-TREE’ is the best example of this. The groove-led track starts in the same style as many Gang Gang Dance efforts – it’s stirring, alien and future-leaning – but its second half carries a surprising, political verve, sampling an interview from Shiyé Bidzííl, a Native American of the Standing Rock movement and its attempts to culturally preserve Dakota land in the face of oil companies and violent state force. Above Gang Gang’s backdrop of looped pianos and guitar feedback, Bidzííl speaks of “tear gas, riot gear, weapons” and the aggressive tactics being used against indigenous communities. He then points out a herd of buffalo and leads a native chant, while the song breaks into an emotional coda. It’s the closest the trio have come to sounding like Sigur Ròs, and it’s the most moving moment they’ve ever put to tape.
Elsewhere, they suggest, subtly and mostly through instrumental means, that nature is the only beautiful constant in an otherwise ugly, divided world. It’s easy to cast every current record as political in some sense, part of a chorus of protest music. ‘Kazuashita’ doesn’t entirely fall into that bracket – the playful R&B nods of ‘Too Much, Too Soon’ and crater-opening exploration of ‘Lotus’ are more about freedom of expression – but Gang Gang Dance’s sixth album, just like their previous work, emphasises how there’s a vast world beyond our closest surroundings.