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Anthony Naples - Fog FM Music Album Reviews

Tough, upfront, and often bruisingly physical, Fog FM is the New York producer’s most substantial piece of work by a considerable margin.
American house and techno are in a remarkably good place right now. The underground is thriving, bolstered by a network of labels, club nights, warehouse parties, and off-the-beaten-path festivals, all with a staunchly independent spirit that’s a world away from the high-flying, big-ticket milieu of commercial dance music. It’s an especially welcome development given that house and techno’s well-defined parameters, combined with a retro-fetishizing reverence for the past, have sometimes left the music feeling cautious and conservative. But a new generation of artists is finding ways to tweak familiar templates, carving a zig-zag path between respect for their predecessors and a determination to do things their own way.

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Gang Gang Dance - Kazuashita Music Album Reviews

Gang Gang Dance - Kazuashita Music Album Reviews
On their first album in seven years, the New York fusionists tap into a welter of global styles; the result is soft-edged and idyllic, yet hides a subtle political undercurrent.

With their magpie musical fusion and love of global pop sounds, you might expect Gang Gang Dance to feel right at home in a world where Drake peppers his work with Nigerian Afrobeat, London grime, and Jamaican dancehall, and where K-Pop is a global phenomenon. Yet there remains something charmingly out of bracket about the New York band on Kazuashita, their first new album in seven years, as if they had teleported in from a benevolent pop universe where Sigur Rós and Cocteau Twins rule supreme and the pursuit of musical beauty is an end in itself.

There is, it soon becomes clear, nothing sharp, stark, or edgy on this album. Instead, everything operates as if shaded by the most ecstatically blurry Instagram filter, like an album viewed from the corner of your eye after a long day on the beach. “Snake Dub” borrows from dancehall rhythms but bathes their teak-tough rhythmic snap in soft-focus synth and echoing vocal effects, while “Young Boy (Marika in Amerika)” uses drum-machine rhythms that nod to trap, blunting their cutting edge against new-age synth chords, noodling guitar, and percussion that sounds indebted to the Tsifteteli rhythms of Greece and Turkey.

This gorgeously gentle approach puts a paradoxical strain on the band’s compositional powers. Melody has to do the heavy lifting on Kazuashita, with harmonic beauty fighting to rescue the album’s smooth edges from the slippery fingers of the bland. Frequently, they pull it off. There are moments of incredible musical splendor on Kazuashita, including singer Lizzi Bougatsos’ Elizabeth Fraser-esque vocal swoops on “J-TREE” and the fabulous lead track “Lotus,” which marries Art of Noise’s “Moments in Love” to the swooning guitar rush of shoegaze.

These highlights are enhanced by the casual way in which they seem to arrive. Gang Gang Dance borrow from the sprawling musical tradition of bands like Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, and the Orb in that their music seems to drift into existence. Fusing together different styles the way they do—and on Kazuashita you can hear everything from techno to prog to reggae, frequently within the same two-minute stretch—can be a tricky business. But Gang Gang Dance make it sound effortless, as if they scratched up these moments of delight in an early-morning jam session before settling down to breakfast. The effect is like finding a pristine rose in the dirt, rather than protected in a botanical garden.

Beauty and blurred edges may not sound particularly 2018, but Gang Gang Dance don’t so much ignore the sharp political realities of today as approach them in their own distinct way, one that concentrates on the hope—and even joy—that an optimist can find beneath the toxic surface.

Bougatsos recently revealed that “Young Boy (Marika in Amerika)” is about “the wrong people getting shot… and the fact that police should not shoot children,” while “J-TREE” features a recording of Shiyé Bidzííl of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe talking about the deployment of “tear gas, riot gear, weapons, rubber bullets” against protestors at the Dakota Access Pipeline. Both songs address authoritarian repression, a theme that has increasingly permeated music in this era of police brutality. But where Fatima Al Qadiri’s exploration of protest on 2016’s punishing Brute was carried out in nauseous sonic detail and Kendrick Lamar’s critique of police violence, in the video for “Alright,” was grim, “Young Boy” unfurls above a pillowy soft bed, while Bidzííl’s words on “J-TREE” funnel into a chorus of massed vocal ecstasy, creating the feeling that things might, somehow, end up OK.

When the band’s fluffily melodic approach fails, as on the promising (but ultimately dull) title track or the Sigur Rós-lite album closer “Salve on the Sorrow,” Kazuashita ends up saccharine and pompous, like music designed to soundtrack bad wildlife documentaries. Thankfully, these missteps are rare on an album that proves Gang Gang Dance aren’t so much of the moment as of a different moment, an alternative and rather more pleasant one. You could call their through-the-looking-glass approach unrealistic. But Gang Gang Dance show that sometimes unreality is a great place to be.

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