Near the dawn of this millennium, Gang Gang Dance were the very skin of New York’s bleeding musical edge. Compatriots of vivid re-constructionists like Black Dice, Animal Collective, and Akron/Family, Gang Gang Dance created intense, ecstatic gyres of noise and soul, dub and techno, post-punk and pop. Lizzi Bougatsos laced her versatile voice around the orchestrated bedlam, her alien sense of soul serving as the connective tissue between all those elements. From the diffuse madness of the introductory collection Revival of the Shittest to the warped world of sound on their 2008 breakthrough Saint Dymphna, which backed a grime verse with Cecil Taylor-style piano and Outkast-sized bass, Gang Gang Dance suggested breathless new possibilities for what music could become in an age where online searches made almost everything instantly accessible.
But not long after releasing its debut for the venerable label 4AD, 2011’s Eye Contact, Gang Gang Dance seemed to vanish. After that seven-year absence, they have returned right on time with Kazuashita, a ten-track expedition that at once confirms their trailblazing status as polyglots and urges everyone else to take it a bit easy. In the years since Gang Gang Dance’s appearance, their brand of globetrotting hyperrealism has been mainstreamed, from Drake’s jumps between genre to Rihanna’s highly selective sampling of au courant sounds. They disappeared during and reappeared after the Obama years, too, stumbling back into a world where their borderless vision of culture seemed to have been stunted by international walls and trade barriers.
There is very little panic to Kazuashita, however, an album that applies Gang Gang Dance’s usually methodical approach to musical hopscotch with a welcome deliberation. Rarely rising above a soulful beckon, these songs pull you into their vision, welcoming with honey rather than driving away with vinegar before offering the band’s vision of wisdom. “J-TREE,” for instance, waltzes through the kind of dream pop that Phantogram turned into hits before drifting into a sample of Standing Rock representative Shiyé Bidzííl, telling his people’s truth about their land. It is a moment of pure musical triumph. Likewise, finale “Salve on the Sorrow” somehow conjures Sade, Sigur Rós, and U2, conspiring to create a kind of cosmic rock that’s bigger than isolated genres. Gang Gang Dance crosses borders we’ve artificially created without drawing attention to the effort, as if speaking multiple languages and playing multiple musical strains at once is as natural as breathing. They’ve never sounded cooler or more confident doing so than on Kazuashita, a welcome return for one of this young century’s most adventurous bands.