GusGus have spent their twenty years of existence making a gradual progression from the pastoral electronica of their earlier work on 4AD to something more direct. With an ever changing line up, sometimes nine members, sometimes six, occasionally just two and now a core group of four, they’ve mastered the art of synthesised atmospherics and groove based sounds, and since signing to Cologne techno label Kompakt in 2007, combined the percussive beat of techno with a knowledge of emotive pop culminating in the biggest selling album to date - 2011’s Arabian Horse - for band and label alike.
Mexico is a further step into the lasers and dry ice, informed by the body and the mind, dirty dance floors and bedroom action. The first words sung on robust opener “Obnoxiously Sexual” sum this up; “When you woke up, you didn’t know that I would steal you from your girlfriend”. Parping horns, disco strings and insistent beats drive the track, the resolution of this unplanned tryst coming in the shape of the lines “For sake of simplicity, let’s keep this between you and me”. It’s salacious stuff, with a driving offbeat bassline that’s impossible to resist.
Elsewhere, progressive vocal house music on “Another Life”, sung by female member Earth, sits naturally with the propulsive trance influences of “Airwaves”. These are explicit nods to mid-nineties dance music, texturally lush, particularly referencing the work of German trance label Superstition, but produced by Birgir Þórarinsson in such a way that it’s in no way pastiche. There’s a communal ambience on show here; using three vocalists gives it a mixtape aesthetic, the music feeling like a bulging bag of pick and mix.
The sorrowful violins, r n b tinged vocals and glitch beats of “God Application” comes from the same place as SBTRKT, “This Is Not The First Time” shows off Daniel Ágúst’s appealing, Donna Summer-like breathy groans over opulent soaring synths, and lead single “Crossfade” - a gripping highlight - is pieced together with sizzling hi-hats, a backroom electronic throb and further ecstatic vocals from Ágúst. Using the dangerous tactic of referencing DJ terminology as a metaphor for falling in love, something which tends to go horribly wrong (see “DJ” by Saint Etienne or “Heads Above” by WhoMadeWho for examples), GusGus come up with 21st century poetry: “Do you remember the day, when we started to crossfade, our melodies laid, harmonious soundscapes / into each other” for a kind of romanticism you can’t ‘sync’.
It becomes clear that John Grant - who recorded last year’s Pale Green Ghosts in Reykjavík with Birgir Þórarinsson on production - wanted to make his own GusGus album. You can hear it in his electronic-led numbers such as the title track, “Black Belt” and “Sensitive New Age Guy”, and Mexico makes for a more than able bedfellow. It’s equally as rich, succinct, and sleek: “totally fucking Mexico”.