If I never have to write bEEdEEgEE again, it’ll be too soon. It’s the most unwieldy moniker since Merrill Garbus was last in town, but you can’t be too hard on Gang Gang Dance’s Brian DeGraw (his initials BDG make up the project’s title): at least the name doesn’t detract from the quality of music found on his debut solo album SUM/ONE.
In his time as part of Gang Gang Dance, DeGraw is no stranger to playing rather good electronic music; albums number three and four, Saint Dymphna and Eye Contact, (the latter being one of the records of 2011, released on 4AD – also now the home of bEEdEEgEE) marked GGD out as a chaotic, atmospheric and thrilling – if occasionally patchy – dance band making consistently interesting and evolving music, with a compelling singer in the form of Lizzi Bougatsos. While GGD is all edge-of-your-seat stuff and constantly in the red – the sound of NYC, basically – DeGraw has taken a breath, stepped out of that headspace and a difficult 2013 both personally and professionally, and made a record that while sounding like his day job, adds focus and coolness to an already busy palette. It’s interesting to note that the year of recording and writing SUM/ONE took place away from the hustle and bustle of the city up in Woodstock: despite the genre-hopping this is a direct record and a result of filtering out a variety of outside influences.
Recording up in the mountains hasn’t resulted in anything new-agey, though. There are no birdsong samples or crickets chirping; DeGraw’s interpretation of interrogating himself through the world or through others means that although each song itself is focused, the next track along might sound completely different. So, we have deep R&B piano lines meeting trap beats meeting straight-ahead electro-pop meeting hazy ambience yet DeGraw ties everything together with ease and a little help from some guest vocalists: his bandmate Bougatsos, Douglas Armour, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor and CSS’s Lovefoxxx.
Opening track “Helium Anchor” begins with a voice telling us “at least to begin with, I would recommend closing your eyes” as twinkling Boards Of Canada synths swirl around, and major piano chords slowly pick out a bluesy line that makes way for hiccupped hip-hop beats and sampled string plucks. I guess closing your eyes might add to the heady nature of this start, but you can be certain it’s one of the most instantly satisfying tracks DeGraw has put his name to. “Like Rain Man” is more like GGD, not just for Bougatsos’ vocals; a skittering beat and squelching synth lines recall GGD’s best, while our Lizzi wails and yelps wordlessly around the melody like only she can.
Of the other vocalists, Douglas Armour is pulled out of his alt.country comfort zone into ambient bliss on “Empty Vases”, while Alexis Taylor lends his lovely, brilliantly distinctive voice to the dancefloor thud of “F.U.T.D (Time of Waste)” singing “all I wanna do is fuck up the day” over beats that are as 80s club as they are 21st century electro. The best vocal moment, though, comes from Lovefoxxx who is pleasingly restrained on the Balearic bliss of “Flowers”, cooing her way through the finger-clicking track and sounding rather like Beach House’s Victoria Legrand the whole time. Although the vocals add something to SUM/ONE, perhaps the best moments come in the operatic trap of “Bricks” and the slo-mo footwork closer “Quantum Poet Riddim” – remember, for better or worse Gang Dance were partly responsible for unleashing Tinchy Stryder on the world via his guest turn on Saint Dymphna.
By being both coherent and pleasingly unhinged, bEEdEEgEE more than fills the role of cosmic dance music vacated by Gang Gang Dance. That band will return in 2014, and if they are to record a new record, they should maybe follow DeGraw up to the Catskills – it might just result in their best work yet.