The first time I listened to this new album from Gang Gang Dance, I sort of wrote it off as the "transition" release, where the group tried a lot of new things and succeeded at a few of them while not quite landing their punches in other directions. Then, I noticed that I kept playing it over and over again, and those songs that I originally thought weren't as strong ended up as some of my favorites. Although it has some things in common with their last full-length God's Money, it's a much more ambitious and exciting batch of songs, melting together everything from grime to ragged experimental jams and shimmering electronic pop.
And really, the ambitious nature of the album can't be ignored, even if every single song doesn't hit the bulls-eye. It definitely still feels like a bit of a transitional album, but one in which most of the kinks have been worked out already (likely from the series of EP releases that the group did between full-lengths). After spiraling through the spacey opener of "Bebey," the group really kicks things into gear with "First Communion," and their newer-found ability to really meld their disparate sounds really comes into play. Starting out in spaced-out mode, the song locks into a sharp rhythm before long, and repeated vocal lines from Lizzi Bougatsos come into focus as buzzing synths and jagged guitars solidify. As the song progresses, it gradually morphs back into a more dense, psychedelic piece, and by the next song they're gracefully onto something completely different.
That song is the bass-heavy "Blue Nile," and it only sets the stage for the killer instrumental "Vacuum," which mixes some massively-crunched and filtered guitar with squealing, almost new-age synths and huge live drums. It's jammy, but works because it keeps things reigned-in yet heavily narcotized at the same time. Just in case that weren't enough, "Princes" arrives next and finds Tinchy Stryder adding some vocals to a blistering, bastardized grime/dubstep track that absolutely rips.
The production on the album is amazing throughout, and it helps the transitions when the group is moving from another one of their focused, but trippy (largely) instrumental tracks into sheer pop mode, and nowhere is that more evident than on the one-two punch of "Afoot" and "House Jam." The latter, in fact, is easily the most mainstream sounding thing that the group has done to date, and with the near verse-chorus progression makes one think that the group could probably write an entire glistening pop album if they really wanted to. But this is Gang Gang Dance, and they flip things quickly right after that, although nothing on Saint Dymphna goes down harsh. Weird enough to have an edge, but a huge step up in terms of production and song-writing, this is a big move forward from the group.