It’s no easy feat to fully process all that encompasses Gay, the Toronto four-piece band with a very hard-to-Google name. It requires navigation through layers of allusion, irony, unpredictable song structures and just plain irreverence. But even if you can’t fully grasp the ever-shifting enigma that is this band, the material on the surface is especially compelling, and therein lies the triumph of Dance Mix 95.
Let’s start with the title—the name may ring a bell to Canadians who grew up with the yearly installments of MuchDance, which was known as Much Dance Mix from 1990 to 1997. This album’s namesake featured hits by such artists as Whigfield, Bananarama, Urban Cookie Collective and Fun Factory.
The titles of some of these songs might also produce a double-take. “Pete Rose Hair” and “Doug Marten and the Boutonnières Discover the Internet.”
But let’s start with the first song. “Less Than Learning” begins with a huge swell of saxophone, followed by a long guitar solo. Those unfamiliar with Gay previously might think they’re listening to a post-rock album, especially with the song’s six-minute-plus song length, but that guess would be dead wrong. Finally, when the lyrics some in (sung in a deeper baritone than what seemed possible by this band) the lyrics should start to become disarming. The ominous first line is “There’s a lesson, less than learning” but it’s immediately followed by a line about “trying to turn my shit around.” Gay is already flipping the concept of the album by opening their recording with this long and, quite frankly, epic song.
“Pete Rose Hair” on the other hand is classic Gay, and is a huge contrast from the previous song. This is one of the numerous summery-sounding songs on the album, and it tells a short and sweet story that also namedrops two baseball teams in its hooks of “We were the Minnesota Twins” and “Things were much better when the Cincinnati Reds were the Cincinnati Reds,” whatever either of those statements mean.
And then “Doug Marten and the Boutonnières Discover the Internet” brings Gay into self-referencing mode. It’s unclear if the song is supposed to be from the point of view of Doug Marten (or one of the Boutonnières, whoever he or they are) but the first half of the nearly six-minute song features the band’s trademark summery guitar chords until the first half’s ending lyrics: “and now they think we’re a joke/So we showed them this brand new Gay song.” What follows is several long, sustained synth notes, which might be some kind of meta-commentary, but as is with most of these songs, it’s not immediately clear.
“Military Man” flips the album around yet again, in that it’s a downtempo song, with just some simple guitar chords (and what sounds like strings), that is surprisingly sweet and sensitive. Of course, the band can’t seem to resist taking a shot at loves songs with a fiendishly clever set of lines “You’ve got that certain kind of certain something/That I see in other girls, and I’ll see in others still.”
The first half of the album is surprisingly heavy, and so it gives way to a breezier second half, featuring shorter songs and more summery beats. Nowhere is the idea of it being a summer album more clear than in “It’s Summer,” in which the song’s narrator shamelessly says things like “Because they’re wearing much less, which is something I like, I will be checking them out while I’m riding my bike” and later talking about, apparently, getting drunk in a park on any day of the week. “Once Upon a Time I Had a Feeling” is also another short-and-sweet summer song.
“Not Even a Song” is certainly a self-deprecating title, though it kind of fits it’s more of an interlude—it starts with a vocal sample and is followed by a bit of instrumentation and a few lyrics.
“Dante and Susan” is filled with manic energy, and the song title harkens back to the band’s previous EP, which also featured a bunch of named characters. “Chrysotile” was a good choice for the band’s first single (see the slightly dizzying video for it below) with the wicked falsetto and horn swells in the chorus.
It all ends with “Borscht Belt Baby,” another song that is classic Gay. And just as the sound of saxophones opens the album, the sound of saxophones also closes it.
There are clearly not enough words to capture the essence of this album, so these will have to do.
Dance Mix 95 will be available from Pleasence Records on July 12, 2013.
Top Tracks: “Military Man”; “Dante and Susan”; “Chrysotile”
Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) +*swoop*