Release Date: Dec 3, 2013
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Electronic, Electronica, Downtempo, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Post-Rock, Experimental Rock, Experimental Dub, Ambient Dub
Though he writes for his band, Gang Gang Dance, through improvisation, there’s been no doubt that Brian Degraw has melodic inclinations, as most of the experimental crew’s music, particularly the last two LPs, is at least tuneful, sometimes even going as far to utilize a direct song structure, as on 2011’s “Mindkilla. ” The band’s increasing accessibility has certainly increased their reach, but still, never has Gang Gang Dance been anything but a visible fringe group, a common ground for people to meet in the middle of their own genre preferences. For his first solo album, using the moniker bEEdEEgEE, Degraw departs from improvisation to more of a Western popular music tradition, still characterized by the grab-bag assortment of percussive sounds, the twitchy electronics and razor sharp intuition of its creator.
This solo outing from Gang Gang Dance’s Brian DeGraw strips away some of the darkness that inhabited his band’s previous records and creates a more blissful, pop-driven place to play. Where Gang Gang Dance felt like they were channeling some kind of mystic freeform ju-ju, bEEdEEgEE creates something more direct and arresting. “Overlook” is pure melody on top of booming, pulsating synths, while “(F.U.T.D.) Time of Waste” is an Alexis Taylor–sung moody pop confection that could have come off of a more twisted, acid-house version of Depeche Mode’s Construction Time Again.
Gang Gang Dance's primum mobile finally struck out on his own and the result is good—very good, even. The album is the product of what sounds like a deeply tumultuous year for the man personally, and Brian DeGraw as bEEdEEgEE sounds at best like a DJ tuning to the catharsis frequency of the cosmos and at worst like Gang Gang Dance rough drafts. Which is to say: still pretty good.
Since their inception in the early 2000s, Brian DeGraw has handled much of the electronic wizardry, programming, and demented synthesizer manipulation for N.Y.C. art-rock institution Gang Gang Dance. Existing as part of a long-standing community of experimentally minded musicians and cultural collage artists, DeGraw, along with his Gang Gang compatriots, came up playing shows and exchanging ideas with Black Dice, Excepter, Animal Collective, and other boundary-pushing artists.
As a founding member of Gang Gang Dance, keyboardist Brian DeGraw helped transform the five-piece from primitive experimental scenesters to sleek indie club headliners. With a runtime just under 45 minutes, SUM/ONE is made up of nine highly focused and tightly packaged compositions that find DeGraw (under the moniker bEEdEEgEE) pulling back from the perpetual throbbing bombast that has pretty much defined his day job. While DeGraw prefers to ride the dank, dark-wave periphery with Gang Gang Dance, much of his solo debut is more spacious and sunny, with tracks like the R&B-tinged "Overlook" and the swirling lead-off single "Bricks" bursting with technicolour melodies.
Watch any live footage of Gang Gang Dance and your eyes will eventually fall on Brian DeGraw, stuck in a corner of the stage, clutching a drum stick between his teeth, seemingly doing five different things at once. It's not hard to imagine him holed up in a studio into the wee hours, relentlessly tweaking the band's sound until he gets it just right. His group's desire to pull so many styles into their music calls for that level of detail—without it they'd be wading through a morass of overlapping genres with no central unified force to lean on.
“To begin with I would recommend closing your eyes.” It’s a great recommendation and introduction to SUM/ONE, the debut album from Gang Gang Dance member Brian DeGraw. On albums like Gang Gang Dance’s breakthrough Eye Contact, DeGraw helped produce twitching music that landed somewhere between experimental, pop, and dance. Under the moniker bEEdEEgEE, DeGraw has decided to wade into even stranger waters, with a more dance oriented album that, despite a few lackluster tracks, is often as enjoyable as it is unhinged.The opening track with the aforementioned wonderful piece of advice is called “Helium Anchor”.
Brian DeGraw is a significant fifth of New York avant-electronic types Gang Gang Dance, here in a lexically challenging solo mode. Now relocated to upstate New York, DeGraw's solo debut continues Gang Gang's tradition of making esoteric bangers while throwing in big synths (and kitchen sinks). So Gang Gang's Lizzi Bougatsos sings on Like Rain Man, but guests such as Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor also drop by, as on the seven-minute (FUTD) Time of Waste, in which Taylor's choirboy croon seems to relish some carnal activity.
Audacious soundscapes that drift between the realms of the mundane and the supernatural tend to be a gamble, at least when approached as a listener. It’s been known to work wonderfully with the likes of the astral Beach Boys that are Animal Collective, but it also produces some ill-advised psych-pop crossovers. Brian DeGraw’s debut album as bEEdEEgEE, ‘SUM/ONE’, finds itself sitting uncomfortably between both camps, as a bewildering journey that embodies sci-fi ideals of space travel in a pure aural sense.
If you wanted to pinpoint one of the more fundamental revolutions in popular music over the last decade or so, it would be a sort of collapsing of borders. From Timbaland’s Arabic-tinged hip-hop productions to Vampire Weekend’s collegiate reworkings of highlife, musicians have leapt on ethnic and exotic sounds with an enthusiasm that’s sometimes resembled plunder.Gang Gang Dance were always one of the more intriguing exponents of this phenomenon. A New York group mixing cutting-edge electronic experimentation with a hippyish, earth mother vibe, their bewitching pop dove into a melting pot of African pop, grime, Bollywood scores and gypsy folk music.
In a simpler world, Gang Gang Dance's Brian DeGraw might have chosen to embark on a solo career under the initials BDG. He might have filled his full-length debut with easygoing synth-pop, and bestowed upon it a modest title like Someone. With DeGraw, however, little comes easy, and even less is simple—and so under the cumbersome moniker bEEdEEgEE, he brings us SUM/ONE, a restless, speculative, ADHD-generation medley of rhythmic rambling and avant-pop orchestration.
For a decade, Brian DeGraw stayed busy as the primary creative force behind left-field rockers Gang Gang Dance. Two years removed from that collective’s last full-length — 2011’s critically acclaimed Eye Contact — DeGraw has created the bEEdEEgEE alias to help cure his creative itch. While the moniker and the supporting cast may have changed, the underlying sound of DeGraw’s debut solo LP, SUM/ONE, is a familiar one.
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.
“At least to begin with, I would recommend closing your eyes.”Those are the first words that come out of Gang Gang Dance keyboardist Brian DeGraw’s solo debut as bEEdEEgEE. It’s a terrific nugget of advice that pretty much sums up this whole album’s aim to uplift the listener into an invigorating sensory state of mind. Does it succeed? Yes…for the most part.The voice (which sounds a lot like those quit-smoking now tapes) goes on to encourage a meditative mindset in Helium Anchor, before slowly giving way to 45 minutes of synthpoppy, beat-driven sounds that build up into the 80’s-tinged dance/trance album that SUM/ONE essentially is.
I am going to be honest and admit that I’m deeply sceptical of any adult who liquefies the conventions of upper- and lowercase letters as part of their artistic expression. Yes, it’s probably petty, but it has served me well over the years, so I approached the first solo album by bEEdEEgEE (Gang Gang Dance member Brian DeGraw) with glum reticence, and SUM/ONE unfortunately proved my jaded second-guessing correct. DeGraw’s solo work comes across like the prolific kid in a music tech class, using everything in his grasp to throw as many ideas into each song as possible.