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Gang Gang Dance – Saint Dymphna (Warp)

Pop is an eternally complex and intriguing beast. At its worst it’s a cold, grey and empty experience boasting the very worst in focus-group cynicism that flattens the emotions. The best moments however pulse with an honest, uncontrived joy that is as direct and inclusive as music can and should be. It just is, no more or less.

This is Gang Gang Dance’s ‘pop’ moment. Sidestepping from the engagingly esoteric American label Social Registry – home of the equally colourful noise-pop darlings Growing – to the UK’s newly trend aware Warp is a move symbolic not only of their swollen English following, but also of an accepted shift in direction. The impression given here is, “This is our crack at a wider appeal.”

Disappointingly it doesn’t work as convincingly as it should. The best moments (‘First Communion’, ‘House Jam’) create that perfect hybrid, that bridge that should always exist between appeal and invention. These gems are the kind of experimental pop that inspires and dares to promise of undiscovered sonic alleys where we can join hands and walk down together. These are too few however, and what remains appears either flabby or strikingly incongruous, like grime urchin Tinchy Stryder’s energetic appearance on ‘Princes’. Some may cry ‘crossover’ or ‘unconventional’ but he undermines any inertia or flow the preceding work has created.

Flow, or the lack of it, is one of ‘Saint Dymphna”s biggest issues. On earlier albums, such as the ecstatic ‘God’s Money’, the songs ran together, in and out of each other like a stream of collective consciousness, creating one long transcendent river of pseudo-religious bliss. Chopped into bite-size, four to five minute chunks, many of the tracks seem naked and alone. Ideas fade in and disappear with less contextual clout and a lack of conviction as if the band themselves lack the confidence to pursue them. Several songs simply sound unfinished.

Regardless of these unfortunate shortfalls of vision, it is the moments where it all gels that stick with you and draw you back. Sounds and loops stick out at odd angles and spill over the edge like an over-full tin of paint, conspiring to create unusual colours. When ‘Saint Dymphna’ manages to fit into the new frame Gang Gang Dance have created it becomes truly wonderful, but covering stark new ground is a tricky and intricate path and it’s easy to feel some sympathy when things don’t work.

‘Saint Dymphna’ is a valiant and charming, if not wholly successful effort. Gang Gang Dance may yet create the experimental pop triumph suggested here, but it is equally likely that their hearts are simply more suited to the labyrinthine jams they have previously mastered.


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