The members of Gang Gang Dance are excellent conjugators. Like many of their previous records, Saint Dymphna is an object lesson in how to coalesce manifold genres without collapsing under a weight of influences. They’re one of the few bands that can grab from multiple sources and not sound like they’re wearing oven mitts at the mixing stage. Crucially, they also appear to regard repetition as a stultifying experience, meaning each record bears a distinct character that’s quite unlike anything else they’ve done.
Saint Dymphna opens with a skewer of light in the form of “Bebey.” One minute into the song and it’s clear that dance music has exerted an even tighter grip over the band in the years since 2005’s God’s Money. Certain hallmarks from their previous incarnation remain, such as the tight clattering percussion and Lizzie Bougatsos’s remarkable ability to assimilate the vocal inflections of Ari Up, Kate Bush, Gina Birch and Bjork.
But the effusive groove of “First Communion” plays like a band falling in love with pop. Indeed, plenty of the beats and textures that coarse through Saint Dymphna‘s veins have more in common with super-pop production houses like Xenomania than they do with Gang Gang Dance’s contemporaries. The instrumentation of “First Communion” could even work as a Girls Aloud song, which might be anathema in indie-rock circles but serves as a perfectly logical step to anyone following Gang Gang Dance’s trajectory.
“Princes” is notable for its contribution from U.K. grime artist Tinchy Stryder. It sounds a little dated, but only because most grime tracks forfeit their crucial immediacy if they’re not hastily white labeled and fed through 4 a.m. pirate-radio airwaves. It’s a small misstep that momentarily knocks the album off-kilter and rises from the band’s tireless infatuation with cross-pollinating genres.
They regain shape with the clacking percussion of “Afoot,” which resembles a group of kids rattling steel fences with baseball bats. Then, like a larval caterpillar emerging from its pupal stage, the band fully realizes its vision for Saint Dymphna with “House Jam.” Like “First Communion,” the song is straight-out dance-floor-oriented pop. It’s a compound of ideas and influences borrowed from disparate sources such as Timbaland, post-punk, Daft Punk and world music.
Like most of Gang Gang Dance’s work, “House Jam” shouldn’t work, but it does. Part of the album’s appeal is discovering a band with the ambition to pool such divergent source material. But they expertly funnel it into cogency, creating a sound that is their own. It’s rare to find a band with such breadth of vision, and although indie kids might balk at Saint Dymphna’s shameless embrace of the dance floor, the rest of us will be lost in its agitated reverie.