Gang Gang Dance’s 2008 album Saint Dymphna was one of the outstanding releases of that year, showcasing an increasingly accessible sound without sacrificing any of the inventiveness that characterised the NYC-based outfit. The irresistible hooks of ‘House Jam’ (which Florence & The Machine would blatantly nod to on ‘Rabbit Heart’) as well as guest input from UK rapper Tinchy Stryder were in marked contrast to their more abstract earlier output, but if Saint Dymphna sounded streamlined to some, Eye Contact is even more so. While that may sound like a slight in pretentious-hipster language, it’s not: this is Gang Gang Dance we’re talking about, and ‘more accessible’ in their world is still deeply, deeply weird and wonderful by the standards of most other bands.
The stunning opening track, ‘Glass Jar’, has been a feature in their live sets for at least a couple of years now. It makes sense that they’ve waited until now to record or release it, because it well and truly sets the tone for what follows on Eye Contact: a dizzying, expertly layered track that slowly builds in intensity, the hypnotic main synthline kicks in at roughly the six-minute mark, with Lizzi Bougatsos’ sublime vocals taking the song to an even higher plane. Living up to the opening snatch of dialogue (“I can see everything/ It’s everything time”), this is the blueprint for their fifth long-player: taking the uninhibited, almost transcendental vibe of previous songs like ‘First Communion’ and running with it.
‘MindKilla’ is a bonkers, deliriously catchy rave-up that could utterly slay a dancefloor, while ‘Chinese High’ takes the Middle Eastern influences that the band absorb so well and combines them with kitsch, almost garish chimes that are straight out of the ’80s-pop-production guidebook.
If all this sounds a bit full-on, it is; but the New Yorkers make it work. Not least because of Bougatsos, whose vocals are pushed to the forefront more than ever: she responds with dazzling performances throughout, channelling some kind of spiritual, kinetic energy. Her vocals are all over the scale and frequently forego traditional expression, which means that she probably won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but there’s no question that she’s a crucial driving force. What’s more, she’s never sounded as serene as she does on the blissful ‘Sacer’, crooning the line “I’m so lost/ Can’t seem to find my way home” as if that’s exactly the way she wants it.
Not that she’s the only vocalist: Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor lends his soulful tones to the amazing ‘Romance Layers’, which somehow manages to sound like Prince jamming over a funked-up, eastern-tinged version of The Cure’s ‘Lullaby’.
The enhanced clarity and directness that’s in evidence on Eye Contact does mean that it lacks the darker, more sinister moments that were such a compelling feature of Saint Dymphna (the voodoo-tinged ‘Afoot’, for example), but this is Gang Gang Dance version 2011: Eye Contact is a veritable tour de force that cements their reputation as one of the most exciting bands around.