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The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact: A

“I can hear everything. It’s everything time.”
I’m kicking myself right now for opening this review with that line, because I know that so many other publications will quote it to begin their own reviews. Despite this, I have made a concerted effort to have it lead into my review, because there is nothing that I could say about Gang Gang Dance’s newest album, Eye Contact, that isn’t already encapsulated by those seven words that begin the group’s fifth release. At once emotionally cold and uncomfortably intimate, Eye Contact is the most jarringly eclectic dance music you are bound to hear this year.

That line comes to introduce first single, “Glass Jar”, a sprawling, eleven-minute behemoth that, like Destroyer’s recent “Bay of Pigs (Detail)”, begins with a cavernous atmosphere of reverberating synthesizers before getting into a groove that is all the more worth the time waited. The guy who utters those words reappears throughout the song’s six-minute build up. He lets out a passionate “Yes” as a musical palette slowly materializes, comforts with a “Don’t worry” and informs us it’s “Dream time” at various points in the song. The aura in which this guy says these things is so precious, it almost feels as if he’s commenting on your lovemaking while he’s in the same room as you. And while that is a radical way to look at “Glass Jar”, it is representative of the song’s humor and its willingness to drop all pretenses, like only the best modern hippies can.

And this is not even with the mention of Liz Bougatsos, the actual lead singer of Gang Gang Dance, whose inimitable coo appears when the beat to “Glass Jar” finally drops. While I could probably count the number of lines she sings on Eye Contact that I understand on one hand, her voice is so emotive that she is just as rapturous as a foreign ingénue as she is as a comprehensible frontwoman. Her indecipherable squeals on tracks like “Chinese High” and “Sacer” sound like an extra instrument, imbuing each track with a new, valued layer of depth. Her vocal presence tends to ground Eye Contact’s songs firmly in the realm of dance music, tying the gleefully disparate ends of “Mind Killa” with the utterance of the song’s title for example. Despite that clear hurdle of comprehension, you will find yourself singing her notes back to her, adding nonsensical words to reconcile their meaning within each song.

But Eye Contact, as that guy so well explains, is a time for everything, and, if you’re getting the impression the album is just some hipster electroclash, it’s far from it. “Glass Jar” does sound like the work of a high-minded outfit of Brooklynites, but it fades into the subversive refrain of a recording of an Italian singer, an intriguing choice of transition into the slippery Eastern guitar melodies of “Adult Goth”. The entire album flows like a DJ set, three interludes giving listeners context before another glorious dance track erupts through their speakers. This dense style of songwriting is most evident in “Mind Killa”, a veritable microcosm of chaos and creativity. It surges seamlessly through about five musical movements, all unique and all infectious. If the song were remixed to about an hour’s length, you wouldn’t need another song to play for a crowded dance floor. Elsewhere, Eye Contact wonderfully contradicts itself from track to track, experimenting with Caribbean jams on “Chinese High”, a spooky organ that would soundtrack a Nikki Minaj-hosted haunted house on “Thru and Thru” and the voice of Hot Chip’s Alex Taylor on the soft rock of “Romance Layers”.

Eye Contact may sound strange on first listen, but its many talents grow stronger with time. The album may very well be a time for everything, but it’s surprisingly manageable, the group very professional in making sure its innumerable elements are all kept in check. The album is very dense and its styles always fascinate and keep the senses sharp with wonder. It’s not as difficult to digest Eye Contact as you may think from this description, but, even if you find that it is, it’s all the more better. Sometimes the senses need to be overwhelmed. Keeps ’em fresh.


Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2: A-

Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 is such a return to form for Beastie Boys that it almost works against them. After releasing the middling To the Five Boroughs and the questionable instrumental The Mix-Up, in addition to postponing Hot Sauce Committee for a year due to MCA’s diagnosis of throat cancer, it seemed like the pioneering rap trio was aging in the exact opposite way longtime fans were hoping. But Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 hits so hard with the traditional sounds that made Beastie Boys so unique that it often goes over the nostalgia deep end, making it open game for naysayers who believe the group has long lost its potency. Hot Sauce Committee has a muddy production that can often make the group’s rhymes difficult to hear and the Boys bask in numerous lyrical clichés. As evidenced by “Funky Donkey”, perhaps the most unsurprising Beastie Boys song name of all time, if you were planning on hating Hot Sauce Committee, you’re going to hate it. If you weren’t, then this shit’s gonna be tight.

Despite Hot Sauce Committee’s muddy production, the musical ideas apparent here are positively fantastic and, for me, more of a draw to the album than the lyrical presence of the Beastie Boys, themselves. The skuzzy keyboard riff of “Make Some Noise” is perfect for silly two-steppin’. “OK” combines riffage and wonky synths with ease, consolidating its melodic prowess with a robotic voice that goes “Yeah yeah right right.” “Long Burn the Fire” similarly slays with organ and wah-wah pedal and “Say It” gets its inventive hook from the harmonics of feedbacking guitars. The bass is uncompromising, filling up any available space even when the group opts for full-on punk rock in the “Sabotage”-like “Lee Majors Come Again”.

Admittedly, the Beasties aren’t as memorable lyrically on Hot Sauce Committee. The album has about a dozen total outstanding lines, and they’re more notable for their silliness than their specificity. The album is highly self-referential and revels in throwback hip-hop clichés, so if you’re looking for something to rag on, you won’t have to look very far. The group goes on and on ‘til break of dawn on two tracks and Ad-Rock comes off as a curmudgeon in “OK”’s second verse (“I don’t give a fuck who the Hell you are / Please stop shouting in your cellular/ I never asked to be part of your day / So please stop shouting in your phone, OK?”). The best lyrical work on Hot Sauce Committee doesn’t even come from any member of the group. Nas’s surprisingly skillful verse on “Too Many Rappers” slays from the moment he bursts onto the track with “I have carte blanche.” When he’s finished, you can’t help but wish Beastie Boys were more dynamic on Hot Sauce Committee than just the funny voices they don for “The Larry Routine”.

So, although Hot Sauce Committee is not technically up to par with Beastie Boys’ greatest achievements, it definitely feels like a Beastie Boys album, which is more than enough reason to give it an excellent rating. When the album ends by cutting off the group while they’re yelling over each other, it shows they still have the vigor to be fun and absurd well into their forties. Hot Sauce Committee may lean significantly on spirit, but, man, if you were going to go with one spirit to lean on, you’re not going to find many livelier than the Beasties. The album is an outlier in terms of production and style in the context of where both hip-hop and electronic music are currently going. While we do have a Santigold collaboration here and a Wolf Blitzer reference there, in a way, Hot Sauce Committee brings the old school underground, and I don’t think I’ve ever danced so idiotically to an album so defiant of the mainstream.