Named after the patron saint of rebels and outcasts, Gang Gang Dance's Saint Dymphna is actually a pretty inclusive record for Brooklyn's experts of percussive melting potting. After all, the band's breakthrough, 2005's God's Money, was concussive first and foremost, a raucous geographical tour that still showcased intricate melodic passages. Though it'd be stretching to envision Saint Dymphna the quartet's first real go at "pop" music, there's noticeably more focus and musical centering going on throughout the band's forty-four minutes of rhythmic tumult, vague detours into African and big-world sounds and Josh Diamond's increasingly striking guitar fills. For the first time, it's tempting to search for narrative, for threads of sense and story in the band's beautiful garbage-pit noise mongering. OK, "narrative" may be a stretch too; Gang Gang Dance plots via verbal pastiche. Just listen to Lizzie Bougatsos slur out "McDonald's cashiers/ In a country where cows are sacred…in a land where most people walk" against dented-cowbell and industrial echo on "Afoot."
Really then, as the band's refined its sound over the last few years, it's Bougatsos herself who's asked to give these songs, well, songcraft. She's always featured more as playground reveler amidst the band's vast experiments with beat and atmosphere than lead singer, often a voice short of words that accidentally falls in tune to their clamor and lends it disorientation. On Saint Dymphna's most impressive moments though, and those that are as commercially handy as the band's ever been, she's often asked to provide the band's chaos with rare clarity, equal parts early Madonna, Siouxsie Sioux, Cyndi Lauper and Kate Bush.
"Desert Storms" finds her Yoko-lizing over sinewy guitar lines, gas-rainbow synths and pogoing rhythms, while on the unfussy "First Communion" she blurts impressionistic lines about sea salt hips against one of the band's tighter guitar-drum arrangements. For "Blue Nile" she's just a distant noise again, briefly, in a techno thump of Middle Eastern textures. But it's on lead single and album standout "House Jam" where Bougatsos really shows her allure. Her damaged wail is suddenly clean, pitched to melody over disturbance or distortion. She's urgent to make new needs clear, pulling the song's simple drums, rave synths and layered background vocals taut into the alt-universe pop gem the band had been moving toward.
For an album so seamless that it repeats God's Money's knack for highlighting passages over individual tracks—some featuring three or four semi-connected patterns just as important for their few minutes or seconds as the "song" they fall within—while still letting us see the internal logic behind each ending as it does, the grime detour with East London MC Tinchy Stryder "Princes" seems from the surface like an awkward gaffe. But Tinchy's kinetic flow begins to make more sense as Saint Dymphna settles in over weeks, yet another odd transition that pairs urban motifs with unurban rackets, both allowed to bang away in the city. It's Gang Gang Dance after all. Dump it in, and they'll keep stirrin'.
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Tracklist: Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna 01. Bebey
02. First Communication
03. Blue Nile
05. Princes feat. Tinchy Stryder
06. Inners Pace
08. House Jam
09. Interlude (No Known Home)
10. Desert Storm