Gang Gang Dance
hile I was reading over some writing on the prominent American architect Frank Gehry (no really, I do these things), God’s Money revealed itself to me. Without getting too deeply into the finer points of it, Gehry’s work has polarized discussions about architecture; his livable, large-scale sculptures wrapped in ribbons of wave-like metal have often been perceived in terms of “art” rather than architectural principles of design and functionality. Look at this, the Performing Arts Center at Bard College, and come right back. Nice, right?
Well, here’s the thing: the back of the building (hidden in this photo and most others) are a few simple, white, stucco cubes. The creative pretenses of the façade (in a way, the literal pretense for the back) make the cubes feel like a disconnected afterthought, a straight-up bad choice. Interestingly, the fact that Gehry straddles more than a couple lines of critical discourse enables him to hold the reins of the conversation. If you talk about his work like art or sculpture, you’ve got to let utility fall a little by the wayside; if you call it pure architecture, then you’ve got to accept his aesthetic extravagance as somehow functional. For most people, he can get away with both, reducing commentary to contradictory, a-critical stuttering. Gang Gang Dance’s meandering, ethno-performance art-jamz hold a similar place as the Performing Arts Center—both in the sense of being flashy on the outside, dull when you get around the whole thing, and also in presenting no clear overall aesthetic—masking an ultimate lack of consistency and substantiality with a feeling of humid, dreamy gravity.
Gang Gang Dance are metropolitans steeped in the honeyed Eurocentric perceptions of foreign exoticism (still exists); any music that so potently evokes the abstracted ideal of The Jungle or the Eastern Marketplace was probably made somewhere like their hometown of New York, just as our notions of what a lot of what the non-Western world is are still probably more informed by a Hollywood set or heavily filtered broadcast news. It’s no cultural crime, but even though GGD have come a long way since their last year's self-titled debut and the subsequent vomiting up of the kinda incomprehensible demos and live recordings collected on Revival of the Shittest, their intentions still remain vague. If it’s simply to make over-stylized, self-consciously chintzy, and amateurishly experimental distillations of world music through an urban No-Wave-y filter, well, that’s fine, but it puts God’s Money on par with a bargain-bin chillout compilation from Tower Records or something, like dinner music for a hip set that would never admit they needed it—it’s just not that engaging of a record. If their goal is to be thorough and interesting, well, there’s a souring lack of sincerity and superficiality to singer Lizzi Bougatsos’s Officially Totally Pointless sexed-up-moan-through-an-echo-machine routine and the band’s dedication to refracting every single note through a flotilla of effects pedals.
Admittedly, God’s Money sounds much cleaner and more cohesive than their previous efforts (whose tape-hiss improv-vibe was a low hurdle to clear), but it doesn’t quite hit the marks of spiritual frenzy that a good structured improvisation seems like it should—the band just finds a lopsided groove and sits on it—nor does it feel like a collection of actual songs. I’d be willing to admit their aesthetic inconsistencies if God’s Money was difficult in an engaging way, but instead it flops around uncertainly in my consciousness. Like Gehry, Gang Gang Dance are compelling, and I’d rather have them around than another Glossy Mag New Haircut Band at the dawn of each fiscal quarter, but any way you cut it, their sound is still unfocused and a little unsatisfying.