Saint Dymphna is the patron saint of those who suffer from mental illness. You can find all manner of pop-pyschology diagnoses relating the unique title choice to this undisputable masterpiece of an album, from the lowliest myspace blog to the glossiest of mainstream magazines; I feel that talking about the music itself is probably more relevant.
Thundering, effervescent, primitive, futuristic, esoteric, immediate, experimental, instinctual, gravitational. This minimal set of semi-opposing descriptors is a quick rundown of the notions flashing through my mind upon first hearing Gang Gang Dance‘s followup to their cavernously percussive rabbit hole of a breakthrough LP, God’s Money. As far as I remember – it’s been played so much by now that every moment feels woven into the fabric of my musical memory. Whether driving, partying, or nearly any other activity, it settles into a perfect symbiosys with my surroundings and mood. It’s truly a rare hybrid on numerous fronts, though that academic compliment is not even hinting at the true appeal of this music.
To get at that point, I’m going to get personal: The moment this album ended upon first listen, I had the relevatory feeling that I’d discovered something I’d always been looking for. To be more specific: this felt, track by track, like a staged unveiling of everything subsconsciously craved but unrealized in my musical life to date. The perfect sequence of exotic tones and previously unrealized dream melodies coupled with throbbing percussion and a veteran DJ’s sense of contrast and flow give this album the unshakeable aura of something both blindingly fresh and comfortingly primal in the same impossible moment. This is a dichotomy as frustrating to pin down, yet unrelentingly urgent as the first blush of a new love.
The moment your head is wrapped around the stuccato-beat shambling opener, “First Communion” blows all notions of skittering electro-percussion noise to smithereens with a torrent of undeniable psych pop – like a firehose to a house of matches. From there you’re dropped into a river of dub, drowned in synth and guitar washes nodding at My Bloody Valentine‘s “I Only Said” then blown through a grime-tinged dubhop track in which the instrumentals perform an intricate dance with the vocalist (Tinchey Stryder), chasing down ever-bending sonic alleyways, each constantly playing catch-up with the other. Everything is shattered at this point, with the pieces accumulating like a rolling snowball through cut-up keys & drums into a ramshackle, hulking riddim. Momentum continues towards an apocalyptic east-meets-west, abstractly political desert landscape of ass-shaking drums and clattering tin cans before finally an oasis is reached: “House Jam” is like some abnormally strong mint dropped into the clammy breath of insurgent tribalism. If not for it’s unabashed left-field trajectory, this would be the ‘crossover hit’ mainstream publications are wont to fawn over – thankfully that isn’t the case. Sounding like a synthesis of “Holiday”-era Madonna and, basically, everything Gang Gang Dance does exceptionally well, it’s a timeless dance track bursting with substantive feeling and unfettered pop deliverance. The penultimate track follows a typically atmospheric interlude and begs comparison to an especially aggressive Massive Attack burning their way through a warzone en route to some thunderstruck mountaintop. It’s climactic, drum-rending apex is rivaled by the meditative, Eno-esque final track, where the album imbues you with the kind of authentic serenity gained only via tumultuous, hard-fought journey.
My inadequate rendering of the adventure that is Saint Dymphna is simply here to whet your appetite. If you’re in any way enticed by the idea of something truly new, a synthesis of disparate ideas cobbled into striking designs, you owe this to yourself. Don’t take my word for it. Just hit play and let these wonderful 44 minutes blow the cobwebs from your consciousness. Something wonderfully, intimately exceptional is afoot.