A long absence from releasing new music can cause some bands to be a bit rusty, while others seldom seem to miss a beat after they’re done shaking off the cobwebs. In the case of Gang Gang Dance, they’re pretty firmly in the latter category. On their sixth studio album Kazuashita (their first since 2011’s Eye Contact and second since signing with 4AD), the New York band continue to develop the diversely influenced rhythms and soundscapes that have defined their career to date, while doubling down on the more electronic direction the group took starting with their previous LP.
Starting with Eye Contact, Gang Gang Dance consists of Lizzi Bougatsos (vocals/percussion), Josh Diamond (guitar) and Brian DeGraw (multi-instrumentalist) have strayed away from their experimental rock sound from the aughts and toward more of a firmly electronic pop aesthetic. For comparison’s sake, their output on Kazuashita leans more heavily toward artists like Kate Bush, Grimes and U.S. Girls than, say, Yeasayer – this is perhaps because of Bougatsos’ trademark high-pitched cooing heard throughout the album in tandem with their current sound. Pop and ambient styles of music are among the project’s central guideposts, as well as even trip hop and R&B – the latter two coming through highlights like the slinky, bassline-focused “Too Much, Too Soon”, as well as hypnotic lead single “Lotus”, which combines warm synths and sonic textures with an even groovier rhythm heard throughout. Named after the new baby of the band’s friend Taka Imamura, Kazuashita’s title track is an eight-minute number complete with a spoken word intro and a meditative, Brian Eno-esque ambient piece acting as its backbone before exploding into worldbeat rhythms and then taking a grittier, more electronic left turn by its end. Despite three effect-heavy interludes that act as a sort of beginning, middle and end piece for the album, each track flows directly from one song to the next continuously – adding plenty to the project’s cohesion and atmosphere.
Lyrically, Gang Gang Dance tackle the current political climate – Obama was still in his first term when their previous album was released – on songs like “Young Boy (Marika in Amerika)”, which discusses police brutality and came about after Bougatsos watched the 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro. There’s also single “J-TREE”, which samples an interview of a man at the Standing Rock pipeline protests (though that event preceded Trump’s presidency by less than a year). The band may have instrumentals that flip between being smoothly structured to being highly idiosyncratic, but it’s a contrast that works for them here more often than not – and the overarching lyrical themes give the songs an added sense of immediacy. The album’s closer, “Salve on the Sorrow”, ends the 10-track LP on a more ethereal – if mildly somber – note, with its seemingly ‘80s-flavoured style and ambience making it sound like a comfortable fit for the end of an old John Hughes film.
While Bougatsos’ occasionally shrill wailing doesn’t always mesh kindly with the musical and structural mixed bag of instrumentals (“Too Much, Too Soon” and “Young Boy (Marika in America)” can suffer from this at times despite their overall strengths), Kazuashita maintains the complexity and vibrance that has permeated throughout their work despite their current musical evolution. As far as that part of the equation goes, seven years hardly seems to have slowed them down.
Words by Dave MacIntyre