Review by Thom Jurek
New York's Gang Gang Dance follow their CD/DVD issue of the Retina Riddim EP (a single 24-minute track on the CD and a DVD of, well, never mind) with Rawwar, a three-track set that comes in at just under 20 minutes and is presented by the Social Registry imprint in a tri-panel foldout with art from various friends' video projects. Musically, Rawwar isn't all that different from the sessions that produced 2005's Hillulah, except that the synth sounds here are way cheesier, as in pure '80s. Cheap drum machines, kit drums, loops, and synth strings play in simplistic pop patterns on "Oxygen Demo Riddim," evoking something akin to early Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark fooling about in the studio. "Nicoman" has actual kit drums, guitars, and synth strings all playing in a semi-Eastern groove (think of nightclub music in Lebanon), with Liz Bougatsos' vocals expertly bring the entire musical mix to a nearly believable level. But the tune rocks too. The guitars begin to sting and punctuate her high-pitched vocals and she comes on nearly rapping in the bridge. It's a gorgeous tune: exotic, dubby, tripped out, and tight. The final cut, "The Earthquake That Frees Prisoners" spends its first three minutes as a nearly ambient soundscape before Bougatsos' warbling, nearly yowling vocals enter over an underwater synth before the whole thing just breaks loose with spoken narration by one of the male members of this group, a big, fat early-'80s drum loop kicks in, thins out, and this strange story unfolds as an aural travelogue while effects -- again synth strings, keyboards, and the swooping sound of Bougatsos' reedy voice -- shimmer in and out. On and on it goes and it's less a "song" than it is a seeming soundtrack to a news report underscored with noise, rambling, shambling percussion, and tape effects. In other words, there is little to really hold it together, and hearing this baby once is more than enough. More than anything else, it feels as though these cuts might have been cutting room material from Hillulah. Rawwar is anything but; it sounds like art students doing their best to be aimless, pretentious, and arty, but coming off as, and merely sounding like tired children.
Gang Gang Dance
[The Social Registry; 2007]
Gang Gang Dance's 2006 CMJ performance at Webster Hall remains an unexpectedly transcendent moment. I'd seen the quartet a dozen times before (and in various forms since), but something about Lizzie Bougatsos, decked out in a Ghostface Killah tee, leading the boys through a real-time percussive collage in front of a half-filled room seemed like the weird promise of this avant crew eventually filling a big club without compromising one iota. A certain charismatic command of the stage, yea, but also the density and liveliness of the sound eking into every corner, jamming shit into the gaps that existed between the spread out, diffident crowd.
GGD's most recent full-length, God's Money, has improved over the two years since it was released, but all we've gotten in its wake are teasers: First came the 30-minute collaged Hillulah, the soundtrack-in-a-soundtrack of gorilla-happy Retina Riddim CD/DVD, and now RAWWAR, a three-song EP that taps out just over 20 minutes. The two earlier pieces had their joys, but of all these mini-discs, RAWWAR's the most satisfying.
Straight outta the gate, hot-stepping opener and regular live staple "Nicoman" is GGD in pop mode, a taut rhythm with a crystalline core. A few minutes in Bougatsos' vocal intonation practically sounds like M.I.A., but she surfs the percussion in a more soul-nodding way, tapping a different sort of avant-pop tribalism. "Nicoman" is followed by the new wave-y instrumental "Oxygen-Riddim Demo"-- the synth is so tinny, you can feel it blowing back someone's feathered hair (though, high school students should adopt it for proms everywhere). The track builds to GGD's signature Kabuki-style notation atop drum clicks and drags. After moving into a catchy patch of Junior Boys-like 4 a.m. pop, the song ends with a few seconds of sampled rain.
Closer "The Earthquake That Frees Prisoners" could've taken a turn for the worse with its Godspeed-style sampled-voice-against-dramatic-backdrop thing, but the voice here is Nathan Maddox, an early member of GGD who died after being struck by lightning on a NYC rooftop. So take a step back to that rain at the end of "Oxygen-Riddim Demo" and now listen to his voice as he mentions "rooftops," as well as dust, terror, anxiety, pain, and...well, this suddenly is a lot more moving than your usual faux-cinematic narrative. Opening with a Bougatsos wail, the montage moves to a more anthemic place-- the band is all systems go for 11 minutes as it celebrates its ghosts.
-Brandon Stosuy, September 26, 2007