Gang Gang Dance
[The Social Registry; 2007]
What to make of Gang Gang Dance's gorilla preoccupation? Retina Riddim sports three, while their CMJ set last fall saw Brian DeGraw stage left, a monkey staring off his shirt. There's the band's sincere initiative to start a sanctuary for primates, and the quotes DeGraw's given this site-- he imagines that gorillas "look at what we have done, how we have fucked up so many pure and beautiful things, and they just all make a pact to stay somewhat primitive, to keep existing in a more natural state. They sit back and laugh amongst themselves at the ridiculous things that humans do." DeGraw hints at an easy metaphor-- GGD as Macy's Day Parade floating ape, New York's backyard naturalists. And yet, far from primitive or pure, Gang Gang Dance are some of the city's most savvy editors, imposing order while making it look like chaos.
They do love their mythology. The gorilla talk is another decoy in a long string of dodges, joining the guerilla art and Ghostface T-shirts and their frontwoman's rough-edged sex appeal as ways of understanding the band when deeper understandings are slow to come. Given how fragmented and harsh their sound sources are, and how unwilling their records are to betray the fact that their music does in fact live and thrive on rhythm, it's no surprise people often take them at their word.
The long-delayed Retina Riddim began as a film project. Using the band's past records, practices, and live performances as source material, DeGraw matched video to audio; Retina is, like Panda Bear's recent Person Pitch, a synthetic collage masquerading as an organic outburst. GGD have always cultivated the rhythmic potential in virtually everything at hand. The difference here is minor, loops and samples standing in for live and spontaneous edits.
Split in its final incarnation over a DVD and CD, Retina is the natural result of years of careful attention by the band to the smallest aspects of their own sound. At the outset of "Retina Riddim", an old-world violin pings around, each scrape and incidental ricochet looped and layered. Something hollow falling to the ground provides a beat. Liz Bougatsos's distorted chanting swirls up, new chimes and violin registers following behind it. An air-horn sounds, a baby chuckles-- at one point, what sounds like a gunshot cues up a disco charge, gabber by way of the subway or the sewer.
GGD share a common approach with Panda Bear and his Animal Collective bros but unlike that sector of their cheerful lite-noise brethren, choose sample sources as ugly and jarring as possible. This can hide how sophisticated their compositions are. Retina Riddim is probably one of the year's only records that could handle a bit of a comparison to Proust-small things, memories, snatches of sound and sensation recur again and again. Time passes but it's not a linear time.
Somehow it's hard to like the DVD as much-something about literalizing the audio. There are kaleidoscopes. The screen bifurcates, fractalizes. There are ocean shots and shots of Bougatsos outdoors. The footage is sharp-- for instance, the chopped and looped live performance towards the end is such a good representation of what you're hearing you can't help but laugh - but there's more to what they're doing than the DVD's all too literal smoke and mirrors. Even monkeys know not to mess with a good thing.
-Zach Baron, May 22, 2007