Straight outta Brooklyn

There is no way I would have bought the new Gang Gang Dance if I hadn’t been given a free copy to review. Any band whose profile includes the words “Brooklyn,” “ex-members of Cranium, Angelblood, Ssab Songs, and Actress” and “Junkyard Audio Salvage” gets written off by me more quickly than you can say, “Something tells me an art grant or two is funding this mess.” But in my knee-jerk snobbery, I’d be missing out on a pretty cool record. God’s Money is surprisingly accessible, weird, gorgeous, and it’s the first album I’ve heard by a Brooklyn dance band that doesn’t have an anti-Bush song (!!! and Outhud, I’m talking to you – we only need one crappy dance-punk anti-Bush anthem.)

The first track on God’s Money is “God’s Money I (Percussion)” and it’s sort of a throwaway. While vocalist Lizzi Bougatsos sings an Arabic-sounding chant, tribal drums pound behind her, accompanied by low, eerie noises from an instrument I can’t place. But the track is a fitting beginning to an album that sounds as close to tribal as a band from one the world’s biggest cities can.

“Glory In Itself/Egyptian,” the album’s next track, explodes out of the gate with a propulsive, airy melody that sounds like a pipe organ being played through a laptop. Bougatsos sings about “Tipping on the thunder/ Of a paradigm” and “a shiver of mint and rotten hay/ Worthy of only rancor,” which means the quartet discusses epistemology in Brooklyn bars and owns shares in a farm upstate. But that’s the “Glory In Itself” part. Part two, “Egyptian,” sounds, I swear, like an early Neptunes’ beat, albeit with pan flutes and a high hat instead of handclaps and a bass drum.

But Gang Gang Dance makes you search for comparisons, and me being fairly electro-illiterate, it can be hard to figure out an easy this-band-meets-that-band statement. “Egowar” and “Before My Voice Fails” sound to me like a lo-fi Cocteau Twins, while instrumental tracks like “Untitled (Piano)” and “God’s Money VII” sound to me like Aphex Twin circa Ambient Music 81-82, but I feel like those are probably layperson’s comparisons. It’s not really important which band or artist Gang Gang Dance sounds like. God’s Money is full of gorgeous music and that’s all that matters.

One of the coolest things about their music is the production. Unlike most dance music, this album sounds organic. Though the liner notes don’t list what instruments were played on the album, I would guess that at least 50 percent of the album’s sounds come from live instruments. Which means we’re not getting the synthesized sound of a flute or a xylophone, but the real thing. Since electronic dance music so often lacks the warmth and immediacy of real instruments, music that gets compared to the sound of gurgling water springs or the night melodies or fireflies often sounds like a robot’s idea of what those things would sound like. That’s why even electronic music gods Kraftwerk can sometimes sound too chilly to really enjoy. Bands like Gang Gang Dance are able to avoid such programmed beauty by making music with more than their laptop. While most electronic music is dense and layered, the layers often don’t sink in; a drum and bass track can build and build but it never registers like a simple distorted lead guitar solo over a power pop song. On “Egowar,” a watery wash of sound crashes over the music at the 1:20 mark of the track and you can hear the sound warble and crackle like it’s coming out of an amp. If the sound was programmed, I’d be shocked. Another possibility is that the band is playing its programmed sounds through vintage equipment, purposely trying to dirty up its computerized gloss. Who knows?

What I do know is that God’s Money is worth checking out, even by people who don’t like electronic music or dance music. As silly as it sounds, I think the album has crossover potential like all those 4AD artists in the ’80s. Hell, if people are still going nuts over the Dntel album, there’s got to be a place for this band in the record collection of indie dilettantes. Or to put it another way: this album is more fun, weirder and sexier than the latest Books album that’s finding fans all over the place. Or how about a third and final way: God’s Money is a party record for people cool enough to know that the music you play at a party doesn’t have to be endlessly danceable. So anyway, go buy the new Gang Gang Dance and laugh at how I could possibly imagine it was a pop record.