As a founding member of New York experimental troupe Gang Gang Dance, Brian DeGraw has made a career of incorporating disparate elements into a heaving whole, merging everything from grime to contemporary Chinese pop. Gang Gang Dance writes some fantastic hooks, but because it is a group, and because of its psychedelic m.o., those hooks are often loose and fleeting. The idea of the band adapting its sound to a more populist format, then, is tantalizing. With such a bewildering array of influences, one might suppose SUM/ONE, DeGraw's solo album would land somewhere near a globally focused experimenter like Timbaland. This is partly the case.
DeGraw is a skilled electronic manipulator. He employs a range of evocative Eastern scales for his streaky, yawning synthlines, and his drums have an infectiously off-kilter knock. Simply put, SUM/ONE offers a lot to fans of Gang Gang Dance's palette. Its main problem is in collaboration. Douglas Armour's sappy vocal turn on "Empty Vases" is the exact opposite of Gang Gang Dance's dream hookup with pre-pop stardom Tinchy Stryder—he sounds utterly basic, and even DeGraw's drum patterns seem toned down to deal with him. Alexis Taylor and Lovefoxxx's duet on "F.U.T.D. (Time of Waste)" is marginally better, in that the production doesn't feel dumbed down and both vocalists do a reasonable job of riding the beat. Taylor's schlubby "nothing to say" refrain feels like the exact opposite of DeGraw's madcap attitude—he is a guy who led off an album by saying "it's everything time," after all—while Lovefoxxx is passable but hardly otherworldly, which might also describe her turn on "Flowers" as well. DeGraw sounds most complete when he is joined by his Gang Gang Dance counterpart Lizzi Bougatsos on "Like Rain Man." She lends a sort of earthy, ethereal urgency to his bright production, which is marked by glacial arpeggios, a chasmic, extremely memorable portamento lead, and stepping, skipping drums. "Quantum Poet Riddim," devoid of vocals, also conjures up a similar balance to DeGraw's parent band, with its nominally dancehall rhythm and surreal synthesizer overlay. Again, the producer thoroughly lives up to his reputation here. He is constantly twisting presets into sparkling new shapes and knocking genre-specific drum patterns off their grids. His list of references is incredibly dense. Knowing what he is capable of with his band, though, one can't help but feel a little unfulfilled by his solo effort. If anything, SUM/ONE's moments of constriction emphasize how vital the expansive jam aspect is to Gang Gang Dance.